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but never hold your breath (though i will breathe for you)

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It’s the middle of the week.

He sits on the couch with his arm around someone, a girl named Samantha with strawberry blonde hair and a beautiful smile. They’re in love, or at least he thinks they are. At their feet, a Jack Russel wearing a collar with Toby stitched on the side in yellow thread is lying asleep, twitching as he dreams dog-dreams and on the telly, a sitcom is showing, the sound of canned laughter as fake as they come. He thinks the feeling in his chest might be contentment, or perhaps...

“Had a good day earlier?” she asks him and the thought withers. He curls his fingers into her shoulder because that’s what people in love do, isn’t it?

“Passable. Had better ones.”

On-screen, the credits are rolling. White text on black background and it's a list of names that he's sure he shouldn't know. Tanner. Mallory. Bond. The sight makes him fumble for the remote control, trying to change channels as something that decidedly isn't contentment thumps against his ribs.

Now, a hospital drama. An emergency. Samantha drops her head on his shoulder and her hair tickles the side of his cheek.

“Poor Jem,” she sighs, a hand resting on his thigh.

Someone is flatlining and a code is being called, the paddles are being charged.

Charging. Clear. Charging. Clear.

“Jem?” he echoes.

“Jeremy, stop being silly.”

Clear.

“Who’s Jeremy?”

Clear.

She pulls away from him then, confusion clear on her pretty face and for the first time, he notices how blue her eyes are. Cornflower, an Indian summer sky. Like ice in the deep.

“Stop playing, it’s not funny.”

“But I’m not–“

The time of death is being called and someone somewhere has fingers pressed to a pulse that flutters, birdlike under paperthin skin. Somewhere, a voice that sounds exactly like the one he had heard on a man named Grey (This is going to be fun) says “Hope is a feathered thing that perches in the heart.”

A voice over, a narration. This is the rewriting of a script he doesn't remember having a part in.

Q wakes up in a hospital bed with a scream lodged in his throat and though he does not know it at that time, it is the flesh of Bond’s forearms that he claws his fingers into.




They have to sedate him. Someone with callused hands holds him down for it and Q can only watch, wide eyed and terrified beyond comprehension as the IV line he had torn out from before slips back into his skin. “It’s going to be okay,” someone says. “Everything is going to be okay, we’ve got you now.”

“But how sure are you?” Q wants to ask in return. “How sure?”. No words come, though, and Sanders is waiting for him at the bottom as usual. He’s still missing a good part of his face.

“Lucky,” Sanders sneers and Q curls in on himself, waiting to wake up.




The world swims into view at a slower rate this time, from sand coloured ceiling to beep of heartrate monitor, from the feel of woolen socks on his feet to the cool smoothness of bedsheets under his skin. Q blinks and the hospital room snaps into blurry focus.

Oh.

His back hurts like someone has set fire to it and left it burning, Q just focusing on breathing for a few moments against the pain.

“Welcome back,” Bond says next to him. Even without his glasses, Q turns his head and knows he can still recognise that particular set of shoulders, the pitch of Bond’s voice. “How are you feeling?”

“Like absolute shit, thanks.” Q wets his lips. He hates how it hurts to speak and how when the words leave his mouth, they come out a hoarse croak. Everything fucking hurts. “Water?”

Bond puts down the gossip rag he’s been flipping through to reach for the cup on the bedside table. “Straw?”

“Don’t care.”

Q sits up with more effort than he had anticipated using and Bond’s arm is a steady brace that he pulls himself up with, Q easing himself into a half seated position. When he swallows, the lukewarm water tastes like blood.

“Leiter made forensics fix this up and give it back,” Bond says when Q is finished and through the fog in his mind, some part of Q knows that no, it was probably Bond who made Leiter make forensics go through all that trouble. It’s the same outcome either way though, so Q murmurs his thanks and holds his hand out for his glasses.

“Oschner Medical, New Orleans,” Bond explains for Q’s benefit once the world has settled back into clarity and defined lines.

The hospital room is a good one, with soft, calming colours and warm, late afternoon light streaming in through the windows. Everything is nice and quiet. Private. Probably expensive beyond belief as well, but that's not really a concern right now so Q lowers himself gingerly back down into the sheets and Bond is there, a hand cupped beneath his head (a different hand in a different place, a different person, a warm sticky weight and the words “Do you know this man?" like a nightmare in your mind) that Q can’t help but startle at.

“Sorry,” he’s saying almost immediately. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.“

Bond looks almost as apologetic as Q feels. There’s a stark light of understanding in his eyes and Q is glad that Bond doesn’t say something like “It’s alright,” or “It’s okay,” because really, it isn’t. Instead, all Bond does is go to draw the inner curtains at the window, keeping out only the harshest of the light. There is no darkness yet in here, not for a long while more and Q is glad, turning his face to watch Bond seat himself next to his bed again.

The minutes pass. Q listens to the turn of pages, to the drip of his IV bag. Bond is a fast reader, or maybe he just doesn't find anything of interest in the sphere of American entertainment.

Soon, Q finds himself fighting to stay awake, even though the last thing he wants right now is to go back to sleep. Sleep is dreaming and dreaming is fear, uncontrollable in every way and oh, god, but he’s just so tired. So, so tired.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Bond says quietly to the sound of Q’s restless shifting on the sheets. He has the magazine folded on his lap. “Really.”

And even though Q knows better than to believe field agents, he hands his glasses back to Bond. Says "I'm not going to know if you don't keep your word, don't worry," as the world grows soft again at the edges, Bond's face a blur of colour. Q's eyes don’t slip shut immediately and maybe it’s because he keeps trying to open them a crack every few seconds to check for Bond’s outline still in the chair, but somehow, Q does manage to go back to sleep.




There are dreams. Long, painful dreams that feel too real to be anything but.

Tonight, Sanders corners Q and asks after his family. His wife, his son. His beautiful baby girl.

“They’ll be taken care of,” is all Q can say, pressed up against the concrete. There's no way out.

“Like how MI6 took care of me?” It’s not even said in a sneer, just asked like a genuine question and Sanders has hope like a flame blazing in his gaze.

Then, a gunshot. There's the warm splatter of blood against Q’s face, fine specks spraying against the lens of his glasses, but Q can still see through them, eyes trained on the body lying on the floor.

Fast-forward and repeat, frame by terrible frame.

This time, Q is the one holding the gun in his hand.

“We try our best,” he whispers to Sanders as the side of the other man’s face disintegrates into blood and bone again. Q knows this part by heart, there's no need to improvise. “We try. We try.”




The next time Q wakes, the room is cold, inexplicably and unbearably so. There are goosebumps like tiny pinpricks on his skin, Q shaking as his muscles spasm off his very bones.

“How long since the last shot he’s had?”

A doctor at his side, swimming in and out of view. Hospital. Not back there, not back there at all.

“Seventeen hours, give or take.”

Nausea. Q turns his head, catching a brief glimpse of someone who could be Bond standing by the wall. Blearily Q thinks fuck, he hadn’t been lying earlier, followed by I think I’m going to throw up. A basin is shoved in front of him and Q has tears leaking out of the sides of his eyes by the time he’s done, the sour taste of bile resting on his tongue. Everything feels like the mess that it is.

“It’ll be over soon,” a nurse says as a cup is pressed to his lips. The water is disgustingly lukewarm, but Q drinks like he’s dying. “The symptoms will go in a few days.” When be swallows this time, it goes down bitter instead of bloody and Q finds that he’s too tired to care.




This is how it goes for the next few days:

Q does not eat. He can’t to begin with, not when everything he takes in just comes back up again a few hours later and he knows that even if he could, he won’t. Everything he tastes is cardboard in his mouth and cotton in his throat. Every tastebud has been dulled to senselessness on his tongue.

“I don’t want it,” he tells nurses and then the doctors themselves and finally they might have to strap him down to forcefeed food down his throat, but Bond shows up holding broth that tastes like absolutely nothing at all.


(“Please tell me you didn’t make that.”

“Your belief in me is astounding.”

Q wipes his mouth with the back of a shaking hand and tries, tries so very hard not to retch it all up.

It happens all the same.)


The pain is tolerable. Q has had much worse in less pleasant places, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still fucking hurt like hell itself. His back, the space between his shoulders, deeper places that he closes his eyes against and tries not to think of. It's all one roiling miasma of god, please make it stop.

Breathe. Just breathe, it’ll all go away at some point.

Burns take a long time to heal and other things, far longer, but Q doesn't want to dwell on that. Instead, Q lets the hours pass him by while curled on his side, Bond well within arm’s grasp even though Q doesn't have the strength to reach out for him.


(Q doesn't have to reach for Bond; Bond stretches his hand out and Q only has to wake.)


Sometimes in the middle of night, when he can’t sleep for fear and for pain and for all the things that tie both together, Q’s hands twitch on the mattress, the beeps of the heart rate monitor climbing high enough for Bond to startle awake.

“You’re not there anymore,” Bond will say in the dark, the lines around his eyes strangely tight. His touch is warm with sleep. “No one is going to hurt you here.”

And to this, Q only shakes his head in the dark, thinkingno, it’s not that, it’s not that at all, I need to be back there, I need, I need it, even if none of this makes any sense. Q wraps his fingers around the circumference of Bond’s wrist. I wish you could help me have it make sense.

“I know,” is all Q whispers in the end so that Bond will go back to sleep. He lets go on the exhale and turns his face away. “I know.”


(“A house blend of their own heroin. Sedatives in the mix, just to be sure.”

“Motherfuckers.”

I’m okay, Q wants to tell Bond. Don’t be angry, please, I’m okay, he wants to say, but moments of clarity are terribly few to come by as the days grow ever long and the words remain only a thought, running through his mind like a broken record on loop.)


The cravings are marrow-deep, yet they dwell just beneath his skin, an unscratchable itch that eats at him from the inside out. I need. I know. It's tangible enough to taste and still confused beyond comprehension. Q closes his eyes against the siren call in his veins, mouthing each syllable to the rhythm of Bond’s breathing.

I need. I know.


(“How long?” Q asks in a rough whisper. “Until... –“

“It’ll take a while, I’m afraid,” comes the apologetic sounding reply. His doctor scratches something on the chart at the end of his bed. Bond is staring stonily at the man, holding his misdirected anger like a gun whose trigger he might pull.)


Q does not cry. Does not eat, does not sleep, does not even move. He thinks of broken lines of code in the afternoon light and sometimes, Bond’s palm is there pressed against his, a warm anchor in the midst of somewhere cold. Cold. So, so cold all the time, unless it’s the hours he burns from the inside out and Q is screaming for air, for reprieve, for Bond to please, don’t be late again. Anything at all, as long as it makes things stop.

Blessed dark. Brilliant sun. Everything hurts his eyes, but Q closes them only to find he cannot sleep. Sanders watches him from the corner of the room with dead eyes and Q sobs, frightened like a child when he meets Sanders' eyes. Reboot, restart, shut down. Nothing works.


(“It feels like your skin doesn’t fit right,” Q says during one of his longer moments of coherence. “Like you could crawl right out because it’s too loose or suffocate because the claustrophobia is too much to bear.” A shiver runs through him. “I wish it would just stop already.”)




“You don’t need to be here.” It is the evening of the fifth day. Q has barely slept and he knows that Bond hasn’t either, judging from the dark circles under the other man’s eyes, the creases in his clothes. “You can go home. Or out. Anywhere. You don’t need to be here rotting in a room with me.”

There are better places to be, better hours to be had with better people.

The city should be beautiful at night.

“You don’t know that,” Bond says simply in reply and turns a page. He’s halfway through a trashy crime thriller that Q remembers reading one long, warm summer ago. “People always want what they don’t need, anyways.”




It takes a little more than a week for the symptoms to pass and Q is left hollow eyed, painfully thin in their wake.

“Well that was quite unpleasant,” Q says one rainy morning when he finds he can actually think straight, his limbs not feeling like they’ve been replaced with lead for once. He sits up with Bond’s help as usual and the sandwich that Bond offers him is not half as unappetizing as he expects it to be.

“And the understatement of the year award goes to…”

Q bites into the bread, the wilted lettuce leaves. Swallows it all down with cool water and a shot of Bond’s sarcasm on the top.

“I vaguely remember handing you that award for the I’m fine back in Indonesia. Jakarta, was it not? With the pipe bomb?"

Bond is silent behind his new novel, but Q can see the quirk on Bond’s lips, the very beginnings of a smile. Outside the warmth of the room, New Orleans drowns in watery sunlight.




Q doesn’t remember much of the flight back to London.

(Walking is difficult, swallowing down pride even more so. Take off and landing a medicated haze, Bond at his side. When has Bond not been there?)

What he does remember though, is MI6 waiting to pick them up and Q makes himself walk the short distance from tarmac to idling black car with his back straight, slipping gratefully onto the leather seats before his legs start to shake. It’s drizzling at Heathrow, a fine mist that feels strangely like home.

“Take us to headquarters, please,” Q tells the driver. Next to him, Bond gives Q a look that’s both disapproving yet bleakly understanding at the same time. Q isn’t going to be the first person to stand bleeding on M’s carpet, and neither is he going to be anywhere near the last.

“You should go home.”

It’s said like a suggestion, but Q hears the order under Bond’s words. The rain is picking up outside.

“When I’m done, I will,” Q promises. “M has to know.”

“M can wait.”

“Bond, can we…” Q rests his head against the window and the glass is cold against his cheek, soothing. “Can we not have this discussion now?” Please? Q wants to add, but he is Q now and Bond is 007. They’re on their way to one of the most secure locations in the United Kingdom, to be debriefed by some of the most powerful people. Hell, some days, Q is one of the most powerful people.

There is no place for weakness here.

Q looks back at Bond and Bond catches his eyes, a tightness around his mouth. A beat. The car purrs in the rain as another kilometer goes by.

Q wills himself not to look away.

“Okay,” The words are quietly said in the end and Q feels a tenseness he didn’t know he had start to dissipate from his shoulders, leaving him pliant against the seats. Bond is staring resolutely out the window.

“Thank you,” Q says in reply. He means it, means it with every fibre of his being. “You don’t…have to come with me, if you don’t want to,” he adds after a while, just a touch hesitant. “It’s late, after all.” This he means far less, but Bond doesn’t have to know that.

Straight ahead, the London roads. Their driver pulls onto the highway going back into the city; it's a smooth entry into the endless stream of cars that are heading home for the night. Q has his hand palm up on the seat and when Bond slips his own into the open space like it’s an invitation to be accepted, Q is unable to hold back a small sigh at the touch.

Perhaps it really is an invitation. Perhaps it isn’t. It could all just be in his head, for all Q knows. Q gives what he can and Bond takes what he wants. This is the way it had always been.

“Don’t be stupid,” Bond says as the pad of Q’s thumb is brushing against the ridge of Bond’s knuckles. “It’s 6pm.”

Symbiosis, unrelenting like a quirk of nature.




“I’m sorry about Sanders,” is the first thing Q says after M offers him a seat. His legs are trembling a little from the way he forced himself to walk through the halls on his own accord, help be damned. Bond had trailed him like a shadow down each corridor.

“You acted according to protocol, there’s nothing to be sorry about.” M has his hands folded on the solid wood of his desk. Q nods at this, unsure of whether he’s being commended or forgiven. Neither puts him more at ease than the other, in any case. “I’m putting you on paid leave for as long as you need. We have people from your branch holding down the fort, but in the event that we need…”

“I’ll come in,” Q says, relieved, even though he’s not sure over what, exactly. “And a week or so will be sufficient, I’m sure.”

“I’m not.” Bond is by the door, leaning against the frame and M casts a weary look there before turning back to Q.

“In this case, I’m inclined to agree. We’ll put it at two weeks, Q. Someone will come by to debrief you when you’re ready so there will be no need for you to come in.”

“Much appreciated, sir.”

M unfolds his hands to pick up a document, casting a cursory glance over it before retrieving a pen from the tray. It’s as clear a dismissal as they’ll ever get in here.

“Sir,” Q says respectfully when he stands. M looks up and his face is unnecessarily kind.

“Two weeks, Q. I’m not going to revoke your security access to your branch or anything that drastic, but please do bear in mind that we appreciate work of the highest calibre.”

In other words, don’t come back until you’re sure you won’t fuck things up with your PTSD. Q inclines his head at this, Bond waiting almost impatiently for him when he turns to leave.

“Satisfied?” Bond asks him when they’re out in the front area of M’s office. Eve’s desk is blessedly unattended to tonight.

“Define satisfaction,” mumbles Q. M is right, of course, but that doesn’t mean Q has to like it. The car is idling when they get out, the driver waiting with an umbrella this time around. "I've just been told not to come back until I'm right in the head."

If that's really the case, two weeks might not be enough. Bond bundles Q into the car and this time, there are no spaces between them.

"Home," Q says, tired out. The moment they pull out of the compound, he lets his head fall against Bond's shoulder. Weakness. There's no point in denying it anymore.

"I'll wake you up when we get there." Bond gives the driver the address to Q’s apartment and Q closes his eyes, listening to the rain falling on the roof of the car.




Bond doesn’t leave. Q tries to make him, but gives up halfheartedly in the middle of the first try because really now, who is he fooling? His back is hurting again though the dressings and all he wants is a hot shower, a warm bed. Bond helps him out of his shirt.

“Do I need to ask you if you know what you’re doing?”

Q is trying not to fidget, feeling painfully exposed as he sits on his bed with his back bared to Bond.

“I had them teach me how.” Careful, careful. The bandages come off easily enough, Q holding his breath as they do. At least the air isn’t cold enough to be a shock. “Tell me if it hurts, though.”

In the bathroom, Q steps out of the rest of his clothes and Bond picks them off the floor, leaving them folded in two on the towel rail.

“It doesn’t hurt too much,” Q says. He turns, looking at the wraith that is supposed to be him in the mirror. Paperthin skin, birdcage ribs in the white light. Bond touches his hip and tucks a limp strand of hair behind Q’s ear, his breathing warm against Q’s neck. “Not anymore.”

He angles his neck and this time, it's an open invitation, Bond pressing a kiss into the bare skin there.




Later, Q sits on the edge of his tub, head bowed as he washes the shampoo out of his hair. Bond is kneeling on the bathmat with a washcloth in hand, catching most of the water before it can slide down Q’s back.

“Do you want me to order take-out?”

A wet cloth easing it's way slowly between his shoulder blades, tracing the narrow patches of unbroken skin that Q has left to him.

Q blinks shampoo suds out of his eyes and says “Okay,” because Bond should be hungry, even if Q isn’t.

“Chinese?”

“Sounds good.”

Bond stops at Q’s tailbone before making his way up again, taking a route that has him touching every bump of Q’s spine. Q stands shakily when they’re done and despite Bond’s best efforts, the water still runs pink.




Wrapped in the softest of his towels, Q tries to sit still and not shiver too much when Bond reapplies the dressing on his back. It’s cold, but he’s pretty sure he’ll live.

“Noodles from the usual place?” Q asks in an attempt to take his mind off the sharp smell of antiseptic, the cold slough of aloe on his back. “Chicken?”

“Chicken.” Bond has steady hands. The gauze is laid down at last and Q thinks about how surprisingly tender the motion is, for someone more accustomed to whiskey and a sewing needle when it comes to most wounds. “Side order for a vegetable stir-fry while you’re at it.”




They eat at Q’s kitchen table at Q’s insistence, another shred of normalcy clung onto in the midst of the wreckage. Q is hunched over a plastic bowl of noodles he doesn’t feel like eating.

“Did you kill them?”

It’s not the most appropriate question and neither is it the most appropriate place or time, but then, they both aren’t the most appropriate people to begin with. Bond picks up a cashew with his chopsticks.

“Three,” he says. A bit of celery next. Q avoids those like the plague they are so they’re in abundance on the plate. “No bodies.”

Q nods his approval and forces a bite of chicken past his mouth. He bites down, swallowing.

“The CIA took in the fourth so Leiter will keep me posted on anyone else they’re bringing in.”

Bond looks as if he’s concentrating on getting as many strands of noodles onto his spoon, but Q knows the other man is watching for a reaction, any sign at all from Q’s end of the table. Some part of Q wants to indulge Bond, he really does, but there’s no protocol to follow for this.

“Good,” Q says at length. “That’s good.” He means thank you.

Bond places the last cashew on Q’s plate.

You’re welcome.




Bond doesn’t go home, but he does go to Malaysia. 003 has botched a job there and now Bond has to go clean up, no excuses.

“I’ll be fine,” Q insists when Bond gets that look on his face. The glare of the laptop screen highlights the new shadows on his face, the sharp angles of his cheekbones. “Don’t worry, I’ve been taking care of myself for twenty five years before you showed up. Got the hang of it a while back.”

The day Bond leaves, Q has his sister come over.

“You dropped off the grid again,” Gracie says as she slings her backpack onto the couch. “Bastard. Mum and da almost had a fit each.”

“I was busy.” It isn’t exactly a lie and Q knows that Gracie won’t pry. She doesn’t know outright, but she’s always been a smart one. She can guess. “And I’ve already called to say I’m sorry.”

“So where was it this time? Bosnia? North Korea?” She has her feet up on the coffee table.

“You know we don’t deal with North Korea." Q eases himself onto the couch next to Gracie and she makes space for him there, showing him an assortment of DVDs they’re supposed to go through. He makes her put her feet down. “I was in the States. And before you ask, no, I can’t talk about it.” Q doesn’t want to either, but Gracie is better off not knowing that.




They talk. Watch old episodes of Modern Family with mugs of tea in hand. Gracie tells him about her classes this semester and Q lets her cook him scrambled eggs at two in the morning, even if he only eats a few mouthfuls.

“Bet you guys lost the contract this time around, huh?”

They’re lying on Q’s bed, Q curled on his side. She had seen the bandages and he in turn had lied about them. In another life, Q works as the mind behind the best technological innovations in British private security. He’s supposed to enjoy his job, dangerous assignments to oversee around the world and all.

“Of course we did.” Q closes his eyes and they’re children again, sharing a bed. The secrets they keep are bigger, or maybe that's just Q. “Everything went pear shaped because someone missed the parcel in the car.”

“Wrong place, wrong time. Tough luck.”

There’s sympathy in her voice and from across the bed, Q smiles at his sister in the dark. She has classes to be at in the morning. They shouldn’t be awake.

“It was in the job description. Besides, the perks aren’t too bad. We get new tech at least three months before the rest of you plebeians.”

“Oh, really? So being first in line comes at the price of shrapnel in your back?” She fake-punches him in the shoulder, soft enough to be barely more than touch and Q still flinches, even if she can’t see it. “Great perk, that.”

Timezones away, Bond puts a bullet into the side of someone’s head.




Gracie leaves after two days. Q doesn’t ask her to stay because in another life, he’s not supposed to.

“You’ll be okay?”

She has her backpack slung over one shoulder, looking every bit like the beautiful university student that she is. Somehow, geology suits her and Q feels a stab of pride in his chest.

“More than fine, don’t worry.”

“Ring me if anything comes up, yeah?”

“Nothing’s going to come up.”

“That’s what they always say, at the start of horror movies.” She kisses him on the cheek and Q pokes her in the ribs, Gracie pulling away with a squeal. “You can be the know-it-all nerd who dies in the last half hour.”

Goodbye, Gracie.”

She laughs, the sound as sunny as they come. Q closes the door behind her and watches the sun climb over London, his heart lodged in his throat. Nothing is going to come up.




Later that night, Q tries to blink alertness into his eyes, the lights turned on in every room of his flat. It’s nearing midnight and god, he needs to sleep, can feel the tiredness seep into his very bones as he sits in bed with a a book on his lap, but–


(“Are you sure nothing’s going to come up?”

Grey smiles from the doorway and Q watches, unable to speak as the lights go off.

“Are you sure?”

The bed dips under their combined weight. Q is frozen, a rag doll falling apart at the seams that Grey pushes down onto the covers and no, not again, not again, never again, dry lips against his collarbone and a bony hand under his shirt, a knee between his thighs and no, please, anything but this again.)


–Q jolts awake with a gasp and the book falls to the floor, spine up. It’s ten minutes past midnight. A dream he tells himself. Nothing more.

His hands shake when he picks the book up and Q is trying to find a page, any page at all, his eyes straining to focus on the words. Here. Page 95:

Spring flowers, he thought, as he reached the elevator. Little ones; they probably grow close to the ground and a lot of people step on them. Do they grow wild? Or in special commercial vats or in huge enclosed farms?


(they hold him down and his cheek is pressed painfully to the ground, eyes leaking, good boy, pretty boy, a boot to his back and a hand in his hair)


Just a dream. Next line.

Where do you go and how do you get there and stay there?


(New Orleans, on the back of a nightmare, with locked doors and people who don’t reply)


Flip. Next page. Next chapter. Move on, move on.

Thursday night bleeds minutes into Friday morning and Q finishes the book, even though he can’t remember a single word that he’s read.




Bond brings back nameless confectionery wrapped in colourful plastic. Q takes one out of the bag and it tastes like sweet, roasted coconut on his tongue. It feels like he hasn’t eaten in days, hasn’t slept for longer.

“I called MI6,” Q says, working his words around the sweet. The sugar comes like a shock to his system. “I don’t want them to send someone over for the debriefing.”

“Why ever not?” Bond is jetlagged and tired, fresh off a twelve hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. One look at his face and Q knows that the clean-up had been a messy one. “M isn’t going to let you back in until the Monday after next.”

“It’s not about going back in.” The plastic wrapper is sticky, a shiny, translucent green. “I want you to do it.”

Bond pauses on his way to Q’s shower. Q has tipped the bag over to rummage through, now surrounded by a five-coloured mess of cheap, coconut flavoured sweets. He’s starting to sort them according to colour.

“It’s just a report,” Q continues on when Bond is silent. A pile of blue is starting to form in front of him. “Details about the incident, things like that. I can dictate, but if–“

“I’ll do it. Pick up the forms tomorrow.” Bond is back at Q’s side, sitting himself down so he can poke around at one of Q’s carefully constructed piles. “Don’t eat too many of these, they’ll give you cavities,” he adds as the pile finally falls over under his scrutiny. Q really wants to bat Bond’s hand away for being destructive, but all he does instead is pick through the remaining sweets he hasn’t sorted out yet. There’s an abundance of yellows.

“And yet…” Q presses a red sweet into Bond’s hand. “This.”

By the time Bond reemerges with the edges of his hair still wet and dripping water onto the carpet, there are five neat colour-coordinated piles on the bed. Q is curled around them, fast asleep with his glasses askew.

“And yet, this,” Bond sighs to himself and he is gentle when he lifts Q’s glasses off Q’s nose.




The report is a one page form with twenty pages of blank space clipped to it's back. The night Bond brings it back, Q lies with his head in Bond’s lap and Bond combs through dark, unruly hair, a pen in his other hand. This is Q’s I want you to know to Bond’s I trust you to tell me, however broken it may be.

“It was a Tuesday and it was raining,” Q begins. He reaches into the bag of sweets, pulling out one twisted in blue plastic. "The car pulled up next to the curb."

Perhaps it won’t make things better, but at least Q knows he won’t be faulted for not trying.




Page three.

“I didn’t see Sanders after that. I could hear him, but I didn’t see him.” A shudder. Bond traces the shell of Q’s ear and it subsides.




Page five.

“It became much more random after that. No fixed line of questioning, no clear method.” Q closes his eyes and listens to the sound of Bond’s pen scratching words out onto paper. “They left Sanders body there for three, maybe four days.”




Page six.

“Nighttimes were the worst.”

Bond stops writing.

“There were four of them.”

The pen snaps and Bond doesn’t get up to find a new one. On the carpet, sweets are spilling out from their bag.




Five days before he’s due back at MI6, Q personally brings his debriefing report to M.

“It’s not Monday yet,” M says pointedly. He takes the report all the same.

“Not for another five days, sir, but I’m fine.”

Bond isn’t here this time around, called to the States of all places because Leiter had wanted a second, MI6-sanctioned opinion. China is a tricky place to navigate.

“You do know that we’ll run the psych tests to be sure?”

“Sir.”

M signs off on Q’s return and Q feels relief flood his system. At the very least, he won’t have to go home for a while.




“Loyalty?”

“Dogs.”

“Bend?”

“Break.”




His wounds are starting to scab over. The bandages that fit under his clothes get thin enough to stay hidden, but it’s not like everyone doesn’t already know all the same.

“Welcome back,” someone says when Q walks back into his department. Sander’s desk is empty and cleared.

“Good to be back,” Q answers without missing a beat. He has work to do.




There are reports to look over. Things to fix, people to give orders to. A security program needs cleaning up and 005 needs to be outfitted with something that can withstand subzero temperatures. Work, work, work.

Q throws himself into the midst of it all with the enthusiasm of the newly employed, or the newly alive. Eve comes by to say hi, you’re looking good for someone who just came back from the dead and though they’re not exactly best friends, Q doesn’t hate her company. They laugh. She brings him new orders from M and Q follows them precisely, down to the letter.

Life inches on.




By his third day back, Q has been working for sixty-five hours. He has slept for seven, and even then, that’s only because sleep sneaks up on him unawares. Q wakes up with a start each time, biting the inside of his mouth to keep from making a sound.

“Don’t you need to go home?”

Eve lingers at his elbow, pressing a mug of tea into Q’s hands. It’s blissfully hot and it scalds his tongue when he takes a sip.

“There’s a lot to catch up on,” Q lies. He’s been digging for new things to do for the past two hours, anything at all to keep him chained to his desk for just a little while more. “I’ll go home when it’s all done.”




The seventieth hour, Bond shows up. He’s not livid, but Q can see from the set of his jaw and the look in Bond’s eyes that Bond isn’t pleased in the slightest.

“007,” Q greets. He stands for it and lets his weight rest on his palms, both of them pressed hard against the table. The room might start to spin if he doesn’t ground himself well.

“Q,” Bond bites out and unceremoniously drops his field equipment on the table. Two guns. An in-ear piece. Someone else had fitted him out for America and Q pretends to be interested in the things that Bond has managed to bring back, ignoring the way Bond hasn’t said a single word since.

“I’m leaving,” Bond finally announces when Q has finished making a slow, but thorough inspection of everything. “You can choose to come with, or I will wait until you drop dead and haul your body into my car.”

“What an impressive selection of choices to decide from.” Q drops the in-ear piece into the bin under his desk. It might not be damaged, but it's not one of his.

“Q.” A warning under the letter. Once, the letter itself had been warning enough for some people.

Oh, how things have changed.




“I can’t sleep,” Q admits as Bond weaves through midday traffic.

“You can’t, or you won’t?”

“A combination. God, you’re a specific one, aren’t you?”

London is thrumming and alive, thriving in the few rare hours of sun she has. Bond taps his fingers on the wheel, considering before he runs a red light. Q will have to find someone to erase the tapes later.

“You’ll need to sleep at some point.”

“I know,” Q says. “I know, I know. It’s just–“


(it’s just that Q really does want to sleep, his body is screaming for it with every new hour he passes awake, but every time he closes his eyes, the fear of not knowing what or who will be there when he opens them is too much to bear)


“–not that easy these days.”




“I’m sorry,” Q murmurs when Bond is pressed up close to him. His skin is warm from the shower, Q's nose bumping up against the curve of Bond's jaw when he turns towards Bond. “I’m sorry I can’t keep this fucking PTSD in check.”

“Don’t be, it’s not something you can keep in check,” Bond points out. From where it rests on his chest, Q’s head is a heavy weight, pressing down just above his heart. Q wonders how close he needs to get to hear heartbeats.

"I can try."

"And you can either go to sleep or get off." An intake of breath, Bond's chest rising. Exhale.

“Impressive choices, as per usual.” Q yawns and finally settles, a hand curled against Bond’s side as if afraid to let Bond go. “You never disappoint, 007.”

Bond reciprocates with a press of his lips against the side of Q’s head, right at the temple.

“I try my best.”




Eventually, the scabs shed to reveal new, baby-pink skin. It itches like something alive under Q’s bandages, but those come of soon enough and Q is left trying not to scratch himself under the smooth cotton of his shirt, the warm knit of his cardigan. This is the second week of the second month.

Q goes to work and sleeps there sometimes because the lights are bright and the hum of voices is never far away. He destroys things. Makes more. England needs just as much saving as he remembers.

The dreams are waking ones, sometimes, but it’s okay, it’s alright. There’s always someone to shake him awake.

“Are you sure?” Sanders asks. Q looks up to see Sanders standing in front of the main screen, head cocked at him like Q is a curiosity from the living to be observed. “Are you?” He leaves a bloody smear on the LCD. “Do you know where you are now?”

“Yes,” Q whispers. “Yes I do.”

A shift in perspective and it's Eve's hand on his shoulder this time.

“You okay?” she asks. There’s a directive from M in her hands.

“Never been better.”

Q shakes himself and holds his hand out for the next assignment.




Bond is shooting at people overseas, being shot at in return. Bond is a warm body in his bed. Bond is the hand that leads him home and Bond is many, many things, but Q thinks the part that matters most is that Bond just


(has the right combination of proximity and space, knowing not to crowd Q when he sleeps or let Q wake up alone in the dark)


might


(have gone through the same thing, once, and Q has seen the files but it’s Bond who tells him what happens)


never


(admit to a lot of things, Q being the same, but they speak a different language from the rest, where a gun is a rose and be safe means I love you)


leave.




Q puts in a request to be fitted with a cyanide capsule of his own and to no surprise, it gets rejected almost from the get go. M is careful with these things nowadays, having biotech work on easier, faster ways. What is surprising though, is how his memo turns up on his kitchen table three days after.

Bond has stuck a knife through it to pin it down.

"You have an amazing flair for the dramatic," Q says dryly when he walks in to the sight. "That's going to leave a mark."

"And you have a blatant disregard for the value of your own life."

"Says the person I had to talk out of jumping off a building in Calcutta the other day."

"It's not the same," Bond snaps and Q can't help it; he rounds on Bond with sound like a snarl in his throat.

"How is it not the same?" he hisses and slams his hand down, knife’s blade quivering from the force of it. The pain is electric, Q’s nails digging into the wood. "Tell me how is it not the same? You know as well as me what it means to have control over your own life. When to live and when to die."

But the moment the words are out of his mouth, Q knows that he's wrong. Inherently, terribly wrong.

Their lives are not their own and haven't been for the longest time.

Q doesn’t apologise and neither does Bond because this is no one’s fault. The living aren’t supposed to have any quarrels with death, after all. Instead, Q sits down at the table and Bond takes a seat as well, wrenching the blade out of the table to lay it down like a peace offering. Q reaches out to turn the knife so the sharp edge doesn't face either of them. A minute passes.

"It was a bit over dramatic, on my part," Bond finally says to break the gaping silence between them. He picks up the memo and folds it in two, into four. “If it makes you feel better, I fought tooth and nail not to have that capsule."

"The last M was always fond of you."

"Perhaps." A solitary white square sits in the centre of the table. "You've seen how cyanide doesn't always work."

"Silva," Q agrees. He takes the square. An exchange, an apology, all wrapped in one. "But other ways do."

Bond's face is unreadable and Q wonders at the kinds of conversations they've had, sitting here. When Bond had reached over for the first time and cupped Q's cheek, bringing him near enough to kiss. When Q had yelled at Bond for showing up with a laceration across his torso, bleeding into his shirt while Q grabbed paper towels to staunch the flow. When they had made it back from HQ at four in the morning after breaking up the drug cartel in Thailand and Bond had wondered out loud if he should start keeping a spare set of clothes here.

When Q hadn't said thank you for all the men that Bond had killed on his behalf.

And now, this:

"They wouldn't have let me off if I didn't know any."

When Q asks Bond if Bond will teach him how to take his own life (because I am afraid) and Bond says yes, I will (because I love you enough to let you go).




"It will hurt," Bond warns. They're standing in Q's living room, the lamplight a yellow hue around them. "And it might not work the first time. It might not even work at all."

"Don't suppose you can do a demo for me to ascertain that?" Q jokes, a sudden wave of nervousness making his voice thin.

"No, I don't suppose I could."

Bond's touch is careful and precise when he traces the most vulnerable places, Q barely moving when Bond ghosts his skin.

“Here,” Bond murmurs. He has the fingers of his hand pressed perpendicular to the curve of Q’s neck, urging Q to lift his head. Throat bared, Q feels Bond swipe his thumb in a small U under his chin. “Break the bone here and you cut the vagus nerve. Your heart and lungs will give out.” A pressure grows against the small space there and Bond is pressing his thumb inwards, saying “Any harder, the oxygen flow will be cut.”

Q swallows and knows for certain now that death really is as easy as they say it is, but Bond only raises his other hand to rest on Q’s side, their hip bones bumping together when Q takes a step in. Like this, the thought of dying doesn’t seem so bad.

“You could kill me,” Q whispers. The words are a hum in his throat and Bond traces the vibration of each syllable. “You could, right here and now.”

“I could.”

Q wraps his arms around Bond then, close enough to crush.




There are other places, more dangerous still. Q kneels on his bed and Bond mouths at the scars on his back, kisses each one until Q holds his hand out and Bond presses his lips to the pulse at Q’s wrist.

“More,” Q says so Bond guides Q’s own hand to trace the sharp relief of his collarbones, Q’s fingers skittering at how sensitive, how vulnerable they feel. Bond doesn’t let go.

“Break them if you can,” he says against the edge of Q’s jaw and Q turns his head towards it, bared open even more. “Lungs, heart, trachea, aorta. Each depends on the angle, but with enough force, you’re bound to hit something.” Q can feel Bond’s chin on his shoulder, watching as their fingertips touch the same, naked places.

In the dark, Bond shows Q the many ways he can end his life.




(“The weakest part.” Bond combs his hands through the mess of Q’s hair and drags his finger down a fine, jagged line where Q’s forehead ends.

“I’m sure you have a joke that’s begging to be made,” Q sighs. Bond just laughs, dropping another kiss there.)




One day, Bond calls Q from across two oceans to say “He was executed this morning” and all Q can think in that moment is I wanted to kill him myself.

There is no end.

The dreams continue as they do, though they no longer have the same hold that they used to. Q learns that like the dark is no worse than the light, an empty grave is not better than a death no one mourns. Along the way, Q also somehow learns to be on his own again even though by now that is a skill that he no longer needs. Bond prefers Q’s bed to his own and there’s no arguing with that, even if Q wanted to.

(a secret, shared across the sheets: he doesn’t)




A quartermaster who will die for his agent. An agent who kills for his quartermaster.

It’s a pretty story with an open-ending, but do you measure love in lives or deaths?

Either way, they are fools, or so Q likes to think. Blind, stupid fools, with trigger fingers and explosive hearts, gifted with the sense to hide everything they can behind the blind name of patriotism. All in a day’s work, if you will.

At least these days, Bond is getting better at bringing things back in one piece.