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What's Said in the Silences

Chapter Text

May, 2016

 

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

Bond wakes instantly and shuts off the alarm, groggily focusing on the red numbers glaring him in the face. 3:45am. “Too bloody early,” he groans as he sits up and scrubs a hand over his face. Next to him, Alec rolls over and mumbles something about “pretty flowers” in his sleep. James grins and leans over to kiss his lover on the cheek before climbing out of their bed.

His cane is leaning against the wall, a gorgeous, carved wooden thing that Alec had worked on when James was in hospital. Recovering. He grasps the handle and stands the rest of the way while leaning heavily on it for support. He still hates the thing, especially when he needs it after sleeping, but the scar tissue and metal pins and reattached ligaments always ache the most when he first wakes.

It’s the hobbling and limping thumps that finally pull Alec back to consciousness. He faintly hears the water running and stumbles down the corridor to join his lover in a very early morning shower.

“Thought you were going to wake me,” he rumbles as he presses up against James to stand under the water. “Fuck that’s cold.”

“And that’s why,” James teases. “The heater hasn’t properly kicked on yet.”

“Prat. You wanted the hot water for yourself.”

“It’s too early to argue, Alec.”

“Too early for shower sex?”

“With this knee?”

“Who said you had to do anything?”

“What are you-oh fuck.”

***

Fifteen minutes later they’re dried and dressed and munching toast in the kitchen of their flat while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, James at the table and Alec leaning against the counter. “Any orders we have to fill today?”

“Uhhhhh, I think there’s a few cake orders. Probably some fresh baguettes too. I’ll have to look at the orders list when I get downstairs.”

“Nah, I’ll find it. You need to make sure the ovens are nice and hot.”

“Not until I’ve had my coffee. We need one on a bloody timer that makes it for us.”

“Maybe after our next pay day.”

The machine shuts down at that moment with a full pot of hot coffee; Alec fixes their mugs and hands James his. “Ta, love,” he murmurs before downing most of it in one scalding gulp.

“Come on. We should get started. Grab your brace, yeah?”

“Only if you promise not to stand at the bottom of the stairs like a keeper this time. I’m not going to fall.”

***

The few hours James spends in the bakery’s kitchen each morning are some of his favorites. The brace strapped firmly around his right knee helps stabilize his leg and lessen his limp a little bit. He has a few strategically placed stools as well where he can rest and take the pressure off when he needs to. Once he gets the fires stoked and the ovens properly heated, James brings out the risen dough and fixes up the first batches of bread and buns for the day.

While he gets things moving in the kitchen, Alec sets up the front of the store: sweeping, putting out chairs, wiping down tables, opening the register, checking the windows and the displays. “Hey James, where did I leave the ‘Sale’ sign?”

“Check under the counter!”

“I did, and it isn’t there!”

“You looked behind the box of flyers?”

“…shut up.”

“You were the one who couldn’t find it!”

Alec pokes his head into the kitchen with a shit eating smirk plastered on his face. “Hey James.”

Uh oh. “Yes?”

“A lawyer turned chef? He’s a sue chef!”

The blond groans and leans against the counter, rolling his eyes. “You are ridiculous.”

“You love me.”

“I do.”

“And you’re stuck with me, sexy buns.”

James smiles, chuckling to himself as he mixes the batter for one of the cake orders they have to fill before noon. Alec’s always been enthusiastic, but his obsession with baking and cooking puns might just be the death of James. Only two days before he had gone on for nearly an hour about a new kind of cupcakes: shut the fucupcakes.

If anything, Alec’s always had the better sense of humor between the two of them. And more energy.

They met their first day of SAS training, assigned as bunk mates and primary partners. Young, hot headed, ready for anything, they’d bonded almost instantly.

“Bet you I can make it to the ridge first.”

“You’re full of shit, Trevelyan. I’m clearly faster.”

“Race you for it!”

“OI!”

“Slowpoke!”

Anyone who goes through those exercises and training regimens together either gives up or keeps going. The great thing about working with Alec was when James felt like giving up, Trevelyan would help him through. The reverse was also true, and by the time they received their sandy berets, they were fast friends, and James was quickly falling in love with the man. They’d gone to the pub to celebrate their completed training, drinks finally leading to drunken confessions of attraction and a few very sloppy kisses. James had woken in Alec’s bed the next morning with a pounding headache and a sore arse; they’d been together ever since.

“I just checked messages. Ronson’s going to be out today. Think you’ll be okay on your own?”

James shakes his head a few times, clearing it of the memories to look at his lover. “Yeah, I’ll be just fine. We don’t have too many orders to fill today.”

“How’s the knee?”

“Still a bit stiff.” Alec smirks and hides a chuckle while James rolls his eyes. “Clearly showing you those films was a mistake.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“Like you don’t know, troublemaker.”

“Hey James. Why doesn’t bread like warm weather?”

“Oh God. I don’t know. Why?”

“Because it gets toasty!”

“I swear you’ll be the death of me.”

“Are you kidding? I’m the one who has to save your arse.”

“I know. Go on then. It’s about time to open. Here’s the first batches of bread and muffins.”

“Are the pastries done?”

“In two more minutes you’ll have some. I’ll bring them out.”

“Don’t strain yourself.”

“Oh no fear.”

***

James loves his job, but he looks forward to the end of the morning rush. He brings Alec his second large cup of coffee for the morning before retreating to the kitchen to monitor the ovens while he rests his knee. Today he munches on a fresh croissant after he takes off the brace. His knee aches something fierce, more so than usual. “Must have weather heading in,” he mutters, staring up at the small windows in the kitchen. The sky looks fairly clear, but in England that means nothing. His knee says there’ll be a storm later. He’s thirty-fucking-eight years old and he has a knee that can predict the weather. “I’m too damn young for this.”

They’d been on a mission, rescuing hostages from bioterrorists holed up in an underground bunker. Two of their team had secured the weapon, he and Alec were escorting the hostages to the rescue vehicles. He’d gone back inside to find the last one, and the moment he stepped back outside with the young man, pain erupted in his right knee and he went down. Another shot rang out, and he heard a body hit the ground behind him. He’d heard Alec shouting for him, but he couldn’t move his leg; when he tried, the pain made him black out.

The next weeks are still a blur in his memory, down time between surgeries, constant tests, glimpsing Alec here and there but not having the strength to say anything. When he’s finally conscious enough, they tell him what he already knows. The damage the terrorist had done (a man named Silva) is enough that even with the reconstructive work, he won’t have full use of his knee again. He’ll be able to walk with physical therapy, but he’ll most likely need a cane or a brace. His SAS career is over.

“What am I supposed to do now, Alec?”

“What do you mean? You can’t go back, and I refuse to return without you.”

“But this is what you’ve always wanted to be.”

“It’s your dream too, you know.”

“You should find someone less… broken.”

“Are you really going to do this? I thought I’d finally convinced you before the damn mission how I felt.”

“This is going to take months to get me properly mobile again, Alec. I’m out of commission.”

The brunet rolls his eyes at James. “You keep forgetting I’m in this for the long haul. I was going to do this when we’d gotten back, but I had to wait for you to be conscious and coherent again. You were pretty damn funny on the morphine.”

“Fuck you, Trevelyan.”

“Not until you can walk and not fall down. Now. Will you be… my boyfriend?”

“God damn you, get over here so I can kiss you and then punch you.”

“Now now, didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to hit?”

“Don’t you know it’s bad form to ask an orphan to remember his parents?”

“So is that a yes?”

“Fuck, yes, it is, damn it Alec I’ll bloody date you. We’ve been sleeping together long enough.”

“Glad to know you’re so enthusiastic about it.”

“Ask me again when I don’t feel like such an invalid.”

Alec resigned that day despite James’s protestations, and he practically lived at the hospital while James healed and struggled through PT. He still maintains it’s harder than all their training exercises, including resistance to interrogation. Walking hurts, and it still hurts, but he had been determined to stand on his own two feet again. Encouraging Alec to look up recipes to try had been a huge mistake though. He had discovered the wealth of baking puns on the web. Now the wall just inside the kitchen is covered in cartoons and memes, and even though they make James groan, they also make him smile.

He has the cakes finished, iced, boxed, and labeled by eleven for Alec to keep behind the counter for when the customers arrive to collect them. James has never minded keeping to the kitchen and rarely emerging to talk with customers unless he absolutely has to. Alec handles the front of the shop just fine, and he’s so good with people. If he’s honest with himself, he’s a bit self-conscious about needing a cane. So he stays out of sight while his lover handles the business end of things.

They close the shop at five, giving them both time to work on making the dough for the following day’s bread and pastries. James does most of the initial mixing while Alec kneads and works the dough, interspersed with even more puns.

“What happened when the baker’s wife came home early?”

“Do I even want to know?”

“She caught him masturbaking!”

“……..”

“I know you’re going to say enough with the bread jokes. They’re too crumby!”

“Alec, when do you have time to find all these?”

“On my phone when there’s a lull in the shop. And I know they’re cheesy… but I think they’re grate!”

“Alec, I swear to god.”

“You know you love them.”

“I know I love you.”

“Close enough.”

Once the bread is set to rise overnight, they head upstairs for an easy dinner. Alec cooks while James puts his leg up and takes the brace off for the evening. Tonight it’s a stir fry that they eat in front of the telly while watching Doctor Who reruns. It’s an easy enough life, James supposes, but it’s not necessarily the one he would have wished for them. The SAS was everything they had both ever wanted. But now… “Are you happy, Alec?”

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

“Because I feel like it’s my fault we wound up here.”

“James-”

“We both loved what we did. The adrenaline, the thrill of it all, helping England. And now we work at a bakery in Oxford.”

“Helping feed the city one hungry Uni student at a time. Did you know we’re the most popular off campus eatery?”

“One of them told you that today?”

“They did. Several of them actually. I was thinking we should have a free pastry day for students who want to use our shop for study groups.”

“That’s actually inspired.”

“Will I be allowed to tell more puns?”

Alec.”

“I know. Come here, you.”

Lying in bed later, James listens to his lover snore and wonders if there will be anything else in Oxford that will make their lives properly worthwhile. It’s his fault they’re here. He should be the one to try and bring that spark of excitement back.

Chapter Text

September, 2016

 

It’s early still, so the leaves have only just begun to think about changing their colors from vibrant summer green to the golds and reds characteristic of autumn. James loves this time of year. The weather gets cooler, a blessing after the blistering summer, most of which he spent in front of the ovens. There’s a new crisp scent in the air, almost like fresh apples and cider. Children are returning to school, and Skyfall Bakery is doing a roaring trade with the students who stop by after classes for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Every spare minute is spent baking and decorating, filling orders, sending out cakes and biscuits and cookies and loaves of fresh bread that never stay longer than five minutes on the shelves. Even with help in the kitchens from Ronson and Smith, the days fly by leaving James with very little time to himself or to spend with Alec.

Finally, on September the twenty-second, they get on top of things.

“Ronson has it today. You’ve not had a day off in months, James. Go on.”

“And leave you here behind the counter? Is Eoin out sick?”

“Yeah, caught the damn flu of all things. But don’t you worry about me.” He smirks, and James narrows his eyes at the man, completely unable to stop Alec from saying, “Don’t go bacon my heart now.”

Oh god. He’s expanding his repertoire. “No longer just baking and bread, then?”

“Another one bites the crust, James.”

“Seriously. Alec-”

“I can see you smiling, so I’ll be having no flack off you, thank you very much. You get grumpy when you’re indoors this much. Get out there, scout out the town. See if there’s anything interesting other than Tesco’s, eh?”

“All right. If it’ll get you off my back about being a perpetual shut in.”

“The only reason you’re still tan is because you’ve been baking in the kitchen alongside your buns.”

“I’m shocked, Trevelyan. I would never drop my pants in the kitchen for the sole sake of presenting my arse to a flaming oven.”

Alec snorts and covers his mouth, trying to stifle his laughter. “Go on then. Grab your jacket. It’s nippy this morning.”

“Yes dear.”

“And you’re not allowed back until after four!”

***

He’s still leaning more on his cane than he would like, but he knows it can’t be helped. James makes his way down the busy streets of Oxford while glancing in the shops and idly observing the wares people have for sale. He stops for a moment in a stationary shop to buy a set of Alice in Wonderland cards, along with a little book shaped eraser. Alec loves books almost as much as James does, and they’ll make a nice gift for his lover.

Bond isn’t quite sure why they aren’t married yet. Probably just haven’t gotten around to it, or maybe it’s because they weren’t sure they’d live long enough to tie the knot. Maybe he should start looking at rings. They’ll live to ripe old ages now, probably retire to a little cottage in the country. He has to make do with it, but it still isn’t the life he’d imagined for himself when he was younger. He wanted to fight for England and serve her with everything he had. She’d chewed him up and spit him back out again, leaving him physically broken and scarred. James knows Alec loves him, but it’s hard. He has the horrible, nagging suspicion that Alec could do so much better than a hobbled ex Commander.

Around eleven, he starts feeling hungry again, so he starts looking for food. A pasty vendor provides him with steaming hot fare, and a nearby coffee shop will give him a place to sit and watch the people going about their day. It’s a quaint little place, The Golden Brew, run by three people, and after ninety seconds inside and listening to them, he knows he’s found some people he can relate to.

The owners are a middle aged male couple and a young, stunning black woman. The men are Mallory and Tanner (though he hears them call each other Gary and Bill). The woman is Eve, and she’s mostly in charge of charming the pants off the customers when they reach the till. She gives Bond the full once over when he makes his way up, her lip curling in appreciation at what she sees, and he responds with his favorite smirking grin. Two can play that game, and James still remembers how to flirt.

“I’ve not seen you around here before.”

“I’m fairly new. My partner and I work at Skyfall Bakery just down the way. And I don’t get out much.”

“Oh really? I’ve been meaning to go there. I hear from the students that the food is first rate.”

“We aim to please.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m Eve Moneypenny. What’s your name?”

“Bond. James Bond.”

Eve’s lip twitches a little at the corner. “All right then, Bond. Now, what’ll it be today?”

“Coffee, black no sugar. Whatever your favorite roast is.”

She rings him up and hands him his change. “I’ll bring it to you when it’s done.”

“There’s no rush. I won’t be going anywhere quickly.”

“Mallory has a war wound as well. Left shoulder, took a bullet meant for his husband. Never heard Tanner swear as much as he does when telling that particular story. God knows they love each other, but he does prattle on a bit about Mallory taking ‘unnecessary risks’.”

“How does Mallory respond to that?”

“Says that Tanner wouldn’t even be alive today to complain if he hadn’t acted when he did. Then Tanner looks all doe eyed at him and they kiss.”

James can’t help but smile, looking over at the men restocking the small pastry case and fixing coffees. “Where do you fit in with all this?”

“Been friends with them for years. Told them if they ever started their own business to count me in.”

“And they’re smart enough not to cross you.”

“That’s it in a nutshell.” Eve brings the mug of coffee around the counter and walks with Bond to the window seat. “If you need a break from the city, there’s a nice bookshop next door. Are you reading anything interesting lately?”

James shakes his head. “Can’t say that I am.”

“It exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find here at first glance, but when you walk inside, it’s like a bibliophile’s haven. It’s the perfect place to read on a rainy day with a cup of tea.”

“Well, you’ve sold me. I’ll head over there after my lunch and my drink.”

“Take all the time you need.”

He spends nearly an hour there, just watching the passersby while he sips his coffee and slowly eats his pasty. Several people pop in for drinks to go, and an elderly couple takes one of the smaller tables on the other side of the shop: a grey haired man with a limp and a shorter woman with silver-white hair and a no-nonsense air about her. She reminds Bond of his old CO, the same commanding attitude and bearing.

James hands his empty mug back to Eve when he’s ready to go, smiling and murmuring his thanks before limping out and heading next door. At first glance, it looks exactly like the kind of bookstore he’d expect to see in Oxford. There’s a simple window display with new novels for different age groups and genres. The door has several flyers taped up, including study groups, advertisements for tutors, and another sign that says “Live dog on premises.” He can see people inside browsing, and one glance at the shop’s sign makes him smile.

In a golden script that reminds him of calligraphy, it reads: Turn the Page.

Bond pushes the door open and steps inside, met by a gentle breeze of cool air that smells exactly like books. It’s that paper and binding glue smell, the same scent in the mustier corners of libraries or in very old books. The shop is lit, but the lights aren’t harsh. A warm glow blooms from each fixture to bathe the shop in a cozy, comforting, welcoming aura.

A large banner hangs from the ceiling in front of him, and James finds himself grinning up at it.

Happy Hobbit Day

Well, what do you know. “I’d forgotten it was the twenty-second…” Bond murmurs to himself as he admires the painted hobbit hole and fireworks on the banner. Directly in front of him is a full Tolkien display, complete with several different printings of his books and little pamphlets about how to celebrate Hobbit Day.

“I’m afraid you missed the morning reading,” says a voice behind him. “But there’ll be another one in a few hours.”

James turns and finds himself staring into bespectacled hazel eyes. The young man in front of him is maybe in his late twenties if that, with a messy mop of dark brown-black hair that frames his face and covers his ears. His face is angular, with high cheekbones and a pouting little mouth that has the faintest hint of a smile about it. He’s dressed in what only can be described as a horrendous mustard cardigan over a dark blue shirt, paired with navy trousers. The man is, in a word, adorable.

“I can’t believe I forgot. I usually pay more attention to significant Tolkien dates. If I were working today, I might have remembered and baked scones and blackberry tarts.”

“You’re a baker?”

“I am. I work at Skyfall Bakery just up the road.”

The young man looks inquisitively up at Bond. “There’s a bakery up the road?”

James grins and nods. “We’ve only been here a few months. Well, Alec and I have only been working there a few months, I should say. We’ve not had much time to explore the city.” He offers his hand to the young man. “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

The other man takes it, shaking James’s hand firmly. “I’m Q. I own and run this shop.”

Bond blinks, certain he’d misheard the lad. “This is your place?”

Q nods. “It is. I inherited it when my grandfather died last year. He owned this place for forty years. Boothroyd’s Books… I renamed and remodeled a bit when I took over. Updated a few of the sections, began celebrating book holidays. You should come by for our Battle of Hogwarts memorial on May second. It had a smashing turnout this year. So many Uni students came by and observed it before studying for their exams.”

James still can’t wrap his head around the fact that this skinny, young thing is the owner of the shop. The younger man looks like he should be in Uni himself, but there’s a peculiar spark in his eyes, a wisdom beyond his years. He’s intriguing, and James wants to know more. “Do you always come and greet your customers like this?”

“I do my best to, especially for new customers. I’m quite good with faces, but I also wanted to offer you a seat if you needed it. You’re relying heavily on your cane and I thought you might appreciate some respite. I have hot water for tea as well. That’s not specific to Hobbit Day, though. I always have hot tea.”

The lad is charming without even trying. “Thank you. Whatever you have is fine. Milk and sugar if you have it.” He follows Q to a reading nook near the register and sits down, his knee groaning in appreciation. James glances at the front window and sees grey clouds rolling in. No wonder it had started aching so much. Q returns a moment later with a mug of steeping tea. “Give it three minutes, and then drink.”

“Thank you, Q. I-I really appreciate this. And we only just met.”

The young shop owner smiles and gives a little bow. “Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.” James watches the man return to his place behind the counter where he has a chair set, a book that looks very dog eared and well read, and a mug of most likely cold tea since Bond can’t see any steam. When Q sits down, he turns and begins murmuring to something James can’t see until the dog clambers up onto a bench next to the young man. The head of a Jack Russell terrier pokes over the counter, and Bond grins. The pup looks inquisitively around the store for a moment before settling down by Q.

James picks up his mug and blows gently on the brew before taking a sip. He has to stifle an appreciative groan because damn Q knows how to brew a perfect cuppa. The soft patter of rain on glass meets his ears, and he watches out the front window as shoppers struggle to extract umbrellas from purses and bags while some just run for the nearest cover. It’s the calmest he’s felt since his injury, and something about the little shop makes him feel safe too. If he has this as a haven outside of work, maybe he’ll consider letting Ronson handle things on a more regular basis. He hasn’t even looked for something to read yet, and it doesn’t bother him. He’s relaxing and not at work for the first time in months.

Bond ends up staying for the afternoon reading. Q gathers everyone in the shop before picking up The Fellowship of the Ring and reading from “A Long-Expected Party.” James focuses on the lad’s voice, losing himself in the very precise and soft yet utterly compelling speech as it paints pictures of the Shire, the party, Gandalf’s fireworks, Bilbo’s disappearance. The others there are staring at Q in rapt attention, hanging onto his every word, and they’re all sad when the reading ends.

“Gandalf’s fireworks were my favorite when I was a boy,” James says to Q as the young man stands and stretches after closing the book.

“I’m rather partial to them myself, but I always saw quite a bit of Frodo in myself.”

“Why’s that?”

Q shrugs and carries the book back to the register, pausing to pet his dog before taking a seat. “I suppose facing situations where the odds are stacked against you. Finding the courage in yourself and a few good friends. And Grandfather was always my Gandalf. He read the books to me when I was little. He did the best Treebeard voice.”

“How long did it take you to get through that chapter? I think my father and I needed almost a week. I kept falling asleep.”

“Same.” Q chuckles, and James instantly wants to hear that sound again. “I think it took us three days. I was determined to make it through and return to Aragorn’s story. These books have shaped my whole life and love for reading.”

“They did for me as well.” His memories of reading the stories with his father were one of the few happy memories James had from before his parents had died. Shoving the pain away, he smiles at Q again. “I’m afraid I have to return to the shop and make sure it hasn’t burned down in my absence, but it was a pleasure to meet you, Q.”

“Likewise, Mr. Bond.”

“James, please.”

Q smiles and nods. “James.”

***

“I’m telling you Alec, he couldn’t have been out of his twenties and completely adorable. And he’s well-read and charming and I want to go back. I want to get to know him better. I know you’d like him if you met him.”

Trevelyan looks up from stirring the bolognaise to study his boyfriend. “What was his name?”

“Q. Which, I know, it’s a bit strange. He was wearing an actual cardigan too, but the whole shop was celebrating Hobbit Day. You would have loved it. And he read from Fellowship.”

“I knew I forgot to add something to the menu today! We were going to do blackberry tarts.”

“That’s what I said to him. Maybe we could partner with him for another event. Bake something that matches the theme. He said he’s going to have a Battle of Hogwarts day next May second.”

“Well there’s plenty of literary holidays between now and then. I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

“You need to meet him, Alec. I… I felt safe there.”

“Really?”

James nods, and Alec turns the heat down on the sauce so he can steal a kiss from James without worrying about it burning. “Then I shall. Eoin is more than capable of handling the shopfront for an afternoon. When he’s no longer a vomit fountain. He better not get me sick when he comes back to work or I might have to kill him.”

“Don’t do that, it’s hard to find someone with his people skills. Q’s really thin though. Like he doesn’t eat enough.”

“Listen to you, Mother Hen.”

“You laugh, but wait until you meet him. If we ever wanted a third… Alec, he could be it.”

“Wow, you really are smitten.”

“Just go there soon. See for yourself.”

***

Q closes the door to his flat on the third floor of the building with a weary sigh. Kneeling down, he scratches his dog behind the ears, smiling. “Good boy, Pip,” Q murmurs. “You were a good boy today.” He stands, stretching again before putting out the dog’s food and making himself a few pieces of toast.

His head aches from the long day, but it had been a good one. Hobbit Day has always been one of his favorites, and today is no exception. And the blond who had come into the store… Q wonders if the knee is a war wound or something else. The man is certainly built like he could be a soldier. All muscle and rugged good looks. He’ll have to go to that bakery for lunch one day and see what kind of treats they have. And those blue eyes… Q could have drowned in them and not cared.

Q shakes his head to clear his thoughts, aware of just how much his head is hurting. Slowly, Q brushes the hair back from in front of his ears and takes out his hearing aids, turning them off and checking the battery strength, nodding to himself. They’ll be good for a few more days before he has to charge them again. He cracks his neck and massages his ears, trying to ease the soreness. It makes it so much easier to communicate with the hearing world when he wears them, but they leave him aching after having them on for twelve hours.

The toaster light blinks at him and he retrieves the crispy bread, applying liberal amounts of butter and jam before settling in his favorite armchair to read for an hour or two before bed. Pippin curls up at his feet with a sigh, and Q smiles. It might not be what he’d expected to do with his life, but he wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next few weeks, James trades off with Ronson every few days so he can take time and visit Q in the bookstore. Each time he only stays a few hours, always having to return to work or close up the shop or grab dinner for him and Alec, but it starts to get harder and harder to leave. Alec still hasn’t gotten a chance to visit; Eoin’s flu lands him in the hospital with worries of walking pneumonia, and he’s currently on more antibiotics than James can even pronounce. So until he’s in the clear, Alec is tethered to the bakery register.

“So where is this mysterious Alec I keep hearing about?”

“Stuck at work, I’m afraid. Our usual counter man is rather very much under the weather. As soon as he’s back and better, Alec will come to visit. He sends his regards and this batch of his favorite brownies.”

Q smiles and accepts the tin, taking a small bite of one of them with a soft moan. “Those are better than sex,” he murmurs to himself.

“Well… hopefully not completely better.”

The younger man blushes and takes the tin behind the counter to hide them away. “For later.”

“So, can I ask about your dog?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, does he have a name? Or do you call him dog?”

Q chuckles and scratches Pip behind the ears. “His name is Pippin, though I call him Pip usually. He’s three years old this past May, and he’s incredibly well behaved. He keeps me company most days.”

“At least you don’t spend your nights all alone either.”

“Thinking about me at night? What would your partner think?”

“He wants to meet you and see what I’m raving about.”

“You rave? About me?”

“And if I do?”

Q goes quiet, blushing and shooing Bond away while he goes to help his customers.

***

“No, I’m Gryffindor. I’ve always been a Gryffindor.”

“Really?”

“You didn’t know me in my Navy and SAS days. I could be loyal to a fault and just a bit reckless. Taking risks because I knew I could do it and I had my team backing me up.”

“Bet they loved you.”

“I got more than one dressing down from my CO, but I always got the job done. What about you? What house are you in?”

“Is it not obvious? I’m a Ravenclaw.”

“Ahhhhh, I see it now. I should have known.”

“What about Alec?”

“Oh he’s a Slytherin if I ever saw one. He quit the SAS when I got injured and knew I wouldn’t be able to return to work.”

“Loyal to his friends and hang the consequences.”

“You got it. I really think the two of you will get on.”

***

“I’ve always been partial to Tolkien. Harry Potter was a wonderful decade to be a reader. Then there’s Beowulf, Jane Austen. I always direct younger readers to Lemony Snicket. Some of the American authors, like Hemingway and Steinbeck are classics even though they tend to be terribly depressing. I’ve loved Frankenstein since I first read it at age ten. Have you read any Neil Gaiman? American Gods is getting a mini-series next year! I can’t wait for it. And he wrote the Sandman Chronicles, and The Graveyard Book and so many other amazing novels. Oh! Good Omens. How could I forget Good Omens? It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.”

James loves watching Q’s face light up when he talks about books. He becomes so animated and enthusiastic that it’s infections. He finds himself grinning and practically flirting when he asks, “So where might I find some of these? I’m interested in bringing these home with me.”

“This way! You are going to love these.”

***

“For me?”

“Q, I’ve been bringing you treats for two weeks. Yes, they’re for you.”

He picks up one of the lemon squares, tasting it and staring at James in awe. “These have superseded the brownies now as my favorites.”

Bond grins and gives a little bow. “I’m so glad you think so. It’s my mother’s recipe.”

“She was brilliant then.”

“Thank you. I’m just the conduit now. I inherited all her cookbooks.”

“I’ll save the rest of them for later, but feel free to take up your regular place in the reading nook by the register.”

“All the better to see your smile up close.”

Right on cue, Q grins and blushes, holding the tin of treats close and sneaking another bite before stowing them safely away. He already has plans for them, but he needs four for after work. He has to take an offering to his best friends to apologize for not coming by in a few weeks.

He closes up at the normal time, heading next door with the lemon squares and Pippin on his leash. Eve squeals as soon as she sees him and makes sure he’s looking right at her before she runs to hug him. Q smiles at her, only mildly protesting the crushing hug.

“You are so thin. Come on, I’ll make tea.”

“I brought treats.”

“You never did. I’ll get a plate for them. Tanner and Mallory will be right out.”

“Well, I’m sharing something I was brought. I’ve tasted them and they’re delicious.”

Eve is grinning as she puts the lemon bars on a plate and brings it back with a large pot of hot Earl Grey tea. “Mallory, bring mugs!”

“Got them!” He emerges from the back room with Tanner right behind, both of them bringing mugs enough that the four of them can have tea together. He places his hand gently on Q’s arm to get his attention before smiling at the young man. “It’s good to see you.”

“Likewise.” Q takes a seat while Tanner pours the tea and Eve takes the first lemon bar. “And what do you think of it?”

Eve is too busy moaning with her eyes closed at the taste to answer him, making the men at the table chuckle.

“That good, eh?”

“Just… God, Mallory, just try it.”

“Oh fuck me.”

“Tanner?”

“I’m with Mallory on this one…”

Q sips his tea and watches his friends melt at the taste of the treats, secretly thrilled he has the rest of the tin back in his shop. He’ll be savoring them for the next several days.

“We haven’t seen you in ages! Been busy?”

“Very. The shop sees steady traffic throughout the day. It’s actually rather nice… and I’ve had one recurring customer for two weeks.”

“What’s his name?”

“James Bond.”

Eve looks closely at Q. “He came here the other week to eat his lunch. I believe I sent him your way since he said he didn’t have anything to read.”

“Well, he did come by… he’s really nice, Eve. What do you all know about him?”

“Not much,” replies Tanner as he mixes milk and sugar into his tea. “He seems to be ex-military. Rather a quiet chap unless he’s flirting.”

“He flirts here too?”

“With Eve, mostly. Not so much with us since we’re very clearly married.”

“He flirts with me too, but he has someone back at the bakery named Alec. Says the man is his partner, sounds like they’re boyfriends. He also says Alec wants to meet me but their other register man has been out sick. They… it makes me wonder if they could be open to more or even in an open relationship, but it’s so confusing. James has these… these stunningly blue eyes and we’ll talk while I work and I find I just get lost on them after a while.” He stares at his mug and watches the steam curling up from the hot liquid inside. “He makes me smile and makes me feel good about everything.”

Q feels his ears beginning to ache, and after thinking about it for a moment, he takes his hearing aids out, massaging the sore cartilage and not minding how all the noise in the room just vanishes and leaves him in silence. He trusts these people, and he knows they’ll watch out for him.

Mallory touches his arm first, bringing Q’s attention his way; the younger man focuses on his mouth, reading lips as easy as breathing. “Do you like him?”

Q’s response is quick, his hands spelling and signing elegantly. I do. He’s kind, Mallory. And I think he really does care. He’s the one who brought the lemon bars.

Eve touches his hand next. “Do you want me to warn him what will happen if he hurts you?”

He’s smiling now at her protective instincts. I think I can handle myself. I doubt he or his lover know how to sign, though. They don’t know I wear hearing aids.

Tanner’s turn. “You haven’t told him?”

It never came up in conversation. I’m worried it might scare him off.

Eve. “Then he’s a fool.”

Mallory. “If he leaves because you’re hard of hearing, then all three of us will run him and his partner right out of town.”

I don’t think he will. But Alistair did. So I’m still a little apprehensive.

Tanner. “We can help keep an eye on you from here.”

Eve. “We’re in your corner, Q. Always.”

Mallory. “You have firm friends in all of us.”

His eyes prickle with tears as he smiles at them. Thank you.

***

Monday morning rolls around, and at lunchtime instead of getting to visit with James, Q sees a new customer walk into the shop with a bag that says “Skyfall Bakery” and a small lunch satchel. “Hello?”

The man looks up at him, and Q is struck by the grey-green eyes looking back at him, followed by an appreciated once over and a smirk. “You’re every bit as adorable as I’ve been led to believe. I think I’m going to like you berry much.”

Q blinks at him and then groans. “You must be Alec. James warned me about your penchant for very bad puns.”

“Very bad puns? The cheek on that man. He makes me feel so melon-choly sometimes.”

The young shop owner has to fight to stifle his laughter, but he can see how much Alec is smiling now. “Oh all right. Maybe they aren’t all bad. How is James today?”

“He’s working, says to tell you his knee is as good as ever. He also asked me to bring you these.” He holds out the bag for Q to take. “Raspberry tarts, since we both forgot to bake for Hobbit day the other week.”

“If they’re anything as good as the brownies, the lemon bars, or the cinnamon rolls, I’m sure I’ll love them. Can I offer you a cup of tea?”

“Definitely. After all, my puns are tea-riffic.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“What?”

***

Alec returns from his afternoon in Q’s shop as completely and thoroughly smitten as James had been upon meeting the man. “You were right. You were completely right. He’s absolutely perfect, James. But do you think he would go for both of us?”

“I think we should take things slowly. Keep baking him sweets perhaps. He seems to like the food we bring him. We should woo him with treats, not just smiles.”

“Maybe we can start making foods specifically for him, not just what we make to sell.”

“Hmmmmmm. I have an idea about that…”

***

“What confection have you brought for me today?”

“Something new.” Alec hands Q the bag, the young man eagerly opening it to find several sticky buns glazed in what smells like… “Honey?”

“Mhmmm. We’re trying a new recipe inspired by you. We’re calling them honey buns.”

Q gives an undignified squeak and blushes a bright pink that Alec definitely wants to see again. “I… thank you… I’m flattered.” Q picks one up to taste and groans, eyes fluttering closed. “They’re delicious.” He opens his eyes and smiles warmly at Alec. “Thank you. And James. Tell him I hope he isn’t hiding from me. I haven’t seen him in several days.”

“His knee bothers him in the cooler weather, and he has to use both the brace and the cane right now with the changing seasons if he wants to get out at all. I think the kitchen makes it easier for him to forget the injury.”

“Ahhh, I can understand that.” Q stows the treats away for later as he always does and straightens again, unconsciously sweeping the hair back from in front of his ear as he does. Alec gets a solid several second glimpse of the hearing aid before Q shakes his head gently to restore his mop of dark hair to its original position. “So. What are you looking for today?”

“Books on seasonal baking. Namely, Christmas cookies.”

***

Alec manages to keep the information to himself until he returns to the bakery that evening where he spills everything to James. “Did you know?”

“I had no idea… you’re sure?”

“I’m fairly certain he wears them on both ears because I was paying closer attention after I saw the first one. I mean, I always thought his accent was very careful and controlled, but I had no idea he might have severe hearing loss.”

“I don’t think I ever realized it before, but he doesn’t have a bell on the door. Oh! Maybe Pippin is a hearing assistance dog.”

“He does nuzzle Q when people come near.”

“And he always seems to know when someone is approaching his space.”

“He’s probably sensitive to changes in the air.”

“He most likely reads lips too while we speak. I feel like such a prat now for not noticing before. We should do something.”

“Like what?”

“I think we need to learn some sign, don’t you think?”

“I’ll get the laptop.”

***

“We need a bloody teacher. There’s no way we can learn these all on our own.”

“How do you fingerspell fast enough to be understood? I can barely sign my own name after staring at this for ten minutes.”

“There’s also signs for full words, and that list grows every day.” James sighs and rubs his face tiredly. “I want to do this. I want to show him we care enough to learn, but we definitely need a teacher. We always learned so much faster with proper instructions during training.”

“Maybe someone in Oxford can help. There has to be at least one person here who can teach us some rudimentary BSL.”

As it turns out, there are five in their immediate area, but they go with the one who has the most positive reviews. She goes by M in all the forums, but the people they contact about working with her say she’s the best if they want to learn quickly and retain everything.

James sends the email to her before they go to bed, and when he checks back during his breakfast break the next morning, she has an opening at one that day.

“Alec! Can we both take lunch together?”

There’s a moment’s pause. “Eoin is more than happy for the extra hours!”

“How about you, Ronson? Care to hold down the fort?”

The other baker nods, carrying several fresh rolls from the oven.

“She wants to meet at The Golden Brew,” James calls back to Alec.

“Make the appointment! Incoming rush!”

***

He and Alec arrive at the coffee shop with one minute to spare, taking one of the booths in the back so James can better stretch out his knee. Right at one o’clock on the dot, a little, white haired woman walks into the shop and makes her way straight over to them. “The usual for me, Eve,” she says to Moneypenny before taking a seat with James and Alec. It’s definitely the same woman James saw here on his first time in the shop.

“Olivia Mansfeld. Call me M. You boys must be James and Alec.” He notices she’s signing at them as she speaks.

“We are, ma’am.”

“Right then. Let’s see what you can do.”

Chapter Text

28 October 2016

 

They take lessons with M for two weeks before they decide they’re ready to spill the beans to Q. Learning BSL is a little more complex than either one of them originally anticipated, and they practice with each other every chance they get to improve however they can. They want to be as perfect as possible for the young man. After three days, Eve, Mallory, and Tanner take pity on James and Alec and help teach them shortcuts and give them fingerspelling practice.

“Why are you doing all this anyway?” Eve asks one day after James finally manages to correctly spell all the words on her list without looking at the cheat chart.

“Alec discovered that Q wears hearing aids. So… we thought we would learn. He doesn’t know and you can’t tell him. Please. It’s a surprise. We… we’re going to surprise him. Soon. Once we’re both a little better.”

“Well, your spelling is getting much better. Both of you. Now let’s see how well you can read lips.”

That lesson doesn’t go so well.

***

“I still think we’re going to need more lessons. Are we really ready to tell him this?”

“We can’t hold off forever. And I think he’ll see the effort behind it. So long as we don’t accidentally start spelling swear words, we will probably be okay. And no, I don’t think puns are going to come across quite so well with spelling.”

“Awwwwwww.”

“No, I’m serious. At least until we’re faster at it.”

“Fine. What recipe are you thinking of?”

“Know how we’ve been experimenting with green tea in our cooking? What about sweeten it and mix it into icing.”

“That’s actually a great idea. Incorporates his love of sugary treats with his love of tea.”

“So hand off the shop to Ronson and Eoin on Monday?”

“I think so. And if it goes well, we ask him out?”

“Yes. That’s the plan. I don’t want to fuck this up, Alec. I really care about him.”

“So do I, James. So do I.”

***

They make the cupcakes fresh on Monday at the end of the breakfast rush. James focuses on the cakes, and Alec makes the icing. It takes a bit of trial an error to get the sweetness just right in order to balance out the bitter edge of the tea. They don’t want to lose that unique flavor, but they want everything perfectly melded and even. It helps that the cupcakes will look properly unique and awesome with green icing. They’ll look unique. Like Q.

They make the icing look like beautiful green flowers before boxing the cupcakes up to take them to the bookshop. “Are you ready, Alec?”

“Peachy keen.”

“You’re never going to stop those, are you?”

“Nope. You love it. Come on.” They both bundle up against the wind before walking down the street to the bookshop. It’s early yet and not too busy, and they can see Q through the window where he’s stacking books and touching up displays before checking behind the desk. Well… here goes.

James pushes the door open, watching how Pippin nudges Q’s arm when he sees the men enter. The younger man looks up and smiles broadly at them. “I was starting to think there had been a freak baking accident. I’ve barely seen either one of you for what feels like ages.”

“We’ve both been busy. And we brought you these.” Alec hands over the box and explains what they are. The bakers watch as Q tries one, smiling broadly at the look of delight on his face. “That’s tea. The icing is made from tea!”

“And butter and sugar and vanilla, but yes.” James grins and glances at Alec. Now or never. He waits until Q is looking at them to sign, a little clumsily from nerves, How have you been?

Q’s eyes widen in surprise and he nearly drops the cupcake. Setting it down, he replies, Busy but fine. When did you learn sign?

Alec saw your hearing aids. We have been parcticing.

Q giggles and corrects James. Practicing.

Alec touches Q’s arm gently, pulling his attention. We have been practicing for you.

“What?!”

James laughs and holds out his hand; Q takes it, squeezing gently. “We wanted to learn for you. To put the time in so we can communicate with you in as many ways as possible. We’re… well, we’re both rather smitten with you Q. And we would like to ask you on a date.”

“We would. We would love to take you out sometime, maybe for a walk in the park and then dinner after?”

“What do you say?”

The younger man’s eyes are shining behind his glasses, and he’s beaming at them. Yes, I would love to go, he signs.

***

3 November 2016

 

They get to take Q out a few days later. The younger man closes shop early so they can still walk in the daylight, though it’s hard to stay warm with the biting winds whipping around them.

“Bloody November chill,” grumbles James, relying on his cane more than he would like. To him, it’s just another reminder of how much older he feels and that Q deserves someone more whole, less broken. Alec seems to sense his mood and takes his hand.

“Let’s find a bench yeah? Where we can rest for a moment?”

Q has Pippin’s leash wrapped firmly around his hand. He loves the sweater he has Pippin wearing, a gorgeous knitted thing Mallory had made for him. He pulls his own coat and scarf more firmly around his body as he takes a seat on the bench between James and Alec. “So. Why me?”

“Why you what, strawberry?”

Q sticks his tongue out at Alec. “Why ask me out? Why bring me sweets and learn sign for me and all of this?”

“Well, James was smitten with you from the first moment he saw you. Raved about you for weeks until I got to meet you. And I’m every bit as taken with you as he is. We’ve always been open to bringing others into our bed, but we’ve never actually dating someone, We’ve talked about it though.”

“You both want me?”

“Is that so hard to believe, Q?” James murmurs. “You’re intelligent, passionate, clever, talented. Beautiful.”

“You’re kind of a big dill to us, Q.”

The younger man snorts, smacking Alec’s arm. “You and your damn puns.”

“Yes, but you love them, just like James.”

“Is he always like this?”

“You mean insufferable?” James asks.

“Oh fuck off,” Alec says with a laugh. “Look at the poor lad; he’s shivering. We should head back so you can get Pippin warm before we take you to dinner.”

“It is rather hard to even think about eating outside right now, isn’t it?”

“I agree with Alec. I’m freezing my bollocks off out here.”

***

“I had a lot of fun tonight,” Q says, turning to look at both men and smiling. “I don’t really want it to end.”

“Can we see your mobile?”

Q takes it out and unlocks it. “What are you going to do?”

“Give you our numbers.”

The young man’s cheeks turn pink in a way that has nothing to do with the temperature. He waits while James and Alec put their numbers into his mobile and hand it back.

“It’s up to you if you want to text us or not. But we would really enjoy getting to talk to you more. And maybe go on another date soon?”

“Well, Guy Fawkes Day is Saturday. Take me to the bonfire?”

“I think we can do that. What do you think?”

“I think it’s another date.” James smiles at Q and gives him a gentle hug before pulling back to sign, Until then.

Q hugs Alec too and lets himself into the shop, locking up behind him before climbing up to the third floor. The hearing aids come out first before he lets Pippin out into the back garden. The dog comes back in very quickly, shivering from the cold. Q fixes two hot water bottles, one for Pippin’s bed and one for his own before changing into flannel pajamas and crawling under the covers. Once he’s settled and warm, he takes out his mobile and looks for the new numbers.

To James, Alec 21:34

-Thank you for tonight. I had a good time.-

 

Alec 21:35

-You’re so welcome.-

 

James 21:35

-We had fun too.-

 

To James, Alec 21:37

-You sure you’re not just dating me for my looks or out of pity?-

 

Alec 21:38

-Oh God no-

 

James 21:38

-We would never do something like that-

 

Alec 21:38

-We really like you, Q.-

 

James 21:38

-You’re such a special man. We both see it.-

 

To James, Alec 21:40

-So when did Alec start telling such god awful puns?-

***

They text back and forth until nearly midnight, with Q bowing out before he can fall asleep with the phone pressed against his cheek. He makes sure to shut off the vibrations before he sleeps so it doesn’t accidentally wake him. When he feels his wristband vibrate the next morning promptly at 5:30 to wake him, he sees several texts and photos of food puns from James and Alec. The resulting smile on his face carries him through until lunch.

***

5 November 2016

 

“Are you sure you’re warm enough?”

“I’ll manage. Though I’ll turn my hearing aids off when the fireworks start. If you need to get my attention and holding my arm isn’t doing it, tap the back of my hand twice.”

James nods and grins, holding Q close against him as the bonfire lights. Soon the blaze is keeping the three of them nice and toasty warm despite the evening chill and slight drizzle. “It’s one of Alec and my favorite nights of the year.”

“Because they set things on fire?”

“Hey!” Alec leans over and ruffles Q’s hair affectionately. “Don’t listen to this one when he talks about me and fire. It was one time.”

“Try seven separate occasions and a particularly powerful flamethrower.”

“If it isn’t classified, it’s a story I want to hear sometime.”

“Can we ask about your name? Do you mind? We’re both curious where you got ‘Q’.”

“I liked it better than my real name. And it’s easier and faster to sign. I’ve always liked how unique the letter is as well. There are not many words with Q. And it’s elegant in a way ‘x’ aspires to be.”

“It’s unique like you are.”

“I was going to say that!”

Q giggles and blushes at them both, pressing into their warmth. “You both are incorrigible flirts.”

“Perhaps. But it’s working.”

“It is. We like making you blush and smile.”

“I think it was your smile that pulled us in. Absolutely adorable.”

“And your hair.”

“And the way you look in cardigans.”

“And how you light up when you talk about books.”

“James is still working his way through Good Omens because he kept stopping to laugh, so we’re reading it together.”

“I have to say, I feel quite safe with both of you.”

The three of them huddle together for warmth, mostly as an excuse to cuddle against Q until the fireworks start. As promised, Q turns off his hearing aids just before the first rocket explodes against the darkened sky. It’s brilliant; he can feel the vibrations of the explosion in his chest, and he smiles broadly.

James and Alec keep sneaking glances at Q, more entranced at seeing his reactions to the display than the actual fireworks themselves. He looks so free and young like this, and slowly they each take one of his hands. The three of them stand there and stare up at the sky until the last of the fireworks have fizzled out and the crowd cheers. Q turns the hearing aids back on before grinning up at James and Alec. “I know I don’t necessarily need them with you both, but it’s easier when we’re out to have them on.”

“Q!”

The young man turns around and sees Eve running towards them. “Mallory and Tanner have the shop open for post fireworks cocoa. Interested?”

He looks up at Alec and James. “Fancy some cocoa?”

“I’d love some.”

“Same.”

Eve looks at each of them, narrowing her eyes slightly before smiling again. She leads the way back to The Golden Brew where Tanner has the tray with cocoa ready for them. “I’ll be right back,” Q murmurs, excusing himself to run to the loo.

The moment he’s gone, Eve sits down at the table. “All right. What are your intentions towards Q?”

“Wait what?”

“You heard me. What are your intentions? Because I promise you that you won’t like the consequences if you hurt him.”

“Eve… we would never-”

Mallory sits down in an empty chair near them, Tanner standing right behind him. “I have to agree with Eve. I could easily drop you and make it look like an accident.”

“James… I think this is the ‘hurt him and we kill you’ speech.”

“Are the three of you his de facto guardians?”

“You could say that. We prefer to think of it as close friends,” Tanner explains.

“Well we have nothing but the best of intentions,” James says firmly. “I’m… I’m quite smitten with him, and Alec is too. We could very easily love him, given the time. In fact, I think we mean to.”

The three coffee shop owners visibly relax when Bond says that; they hear the loo door open and they scatter, smiling at Q as he returns. “The cocoa should be just the right temperature,” Mallory says fondly, resting his hand on Q’s arm for a brief moment.

The younger man looks to James and Alec before glancing around at his friends. “Did they give you a talking to?” He asks James.

Alec is the one who responds. “Yep. I promise we aren’t murderers or anything.”

James snorts. “We want to date you, Q. Hopefully even have a relationship, if you’re willing. The three of us. If you’ll have us.”

Q sips his cocoa and takes his seat. “Were they scary?”

“Eve is terrifying.”

Everyone starts laughing then, the tension broken. They drink their cocoa with smiles and plenty of winks and hand holding.

***

James and Alec walk Q home after, stopping once more outside the shop. “I don’t want to say goodnight,” Q admits as he turns to face them. “But I know I have to.”

“This doesn’t have to be the last date we ever have, you know.”

“I would be horribly disappointed if it were. I’m rather counting on you both continuing to woo me with sweets and dates.”

“Would you allow us to say goodnight?” James purrs, brushing a gloved finger down Q’s cheek.

“Perhaps a goodnight kiss to warm you?”

“I… I wouldn’t say no.”

James and Alec share a look and a knowing grin before Bond turns back to Q and presses him against the door to the shop. He leans down, tipping Q’s chin up so he can press their mouths together in a sweet, mostly chaste touch. James’s lips are soft, and he smells faintly of fresh bread. Q wraps his arms around the man’s broad shoulders, kissing back and smiling. He pouts when Bond breaks the kiss, but the blond just smirks and turns Q so Alec can have his kiss.

Trevelyan’s kisses are anything but chaste, teasing and tantalizing, exchanging tongues and breaths while thoroughly messing up Q’s hair. When they break apart, it takes the younger man a moment to remember they were saying good night.

“I… that was… I wouldn’t say no to that again… though now I really don’t want to go upstairs.”

“We can text you again. And we’ll come by tomorrow with breakfast.”

Q nods, but before he unlocks the door he pulls each man back down for a kiss, nipping at their lips and pulling them as close as possible. Only after thoroughly snogging both of them does Q let himself into the bookshop and up to his flat, leaning against the door with a soft, wanting groan.

He can’t wait to kiss them again. He can’t wait to finish falling in love with them.

Chapter Text

November

 

With the weather taking a turn for the cold, and not just “chilly, grab a coat dear”, more of the “oh bollocks even my thermals aren’t working”, their dates tend to be more indoor activities where they don’t have to go very far in order to enjoy themselves. That first week after Bonfire Night, James and Alec spend their dinners with Q, bringing takeaway a few times and cooking for him the other times. He agrees to help them with their sign, especially since all he wants to do after closing shop is take out his hearing aids and give his ears a rest.

They learn quickly to touch Q’s arm or shoulder if they want his attention, and to Q’s credit, he’s very patient with their slow, sometimes halting, fingerspelling. James is getting better faster than Alec, but Trevelyan can understand more of it at a glance than his lover can. They both know it’s going to take time to get as good as Q, but it can sometimes be frustrating. The last thing Bond wants is to be misunderstood or to stare dumbly at Q while the man signs rapidly at him. Never has he felt more like an old dog than when he gets frustrated with sign.

It’s dinner at James and Alec’s flat tonight, and Q brings the wine to the party. They’re making a stir fry with peanut butter blossom cookies for dessert, some of Q’s favorites. For the sake of cooking, Q has kept his hearing aids in; the three of them haven’t perfected a soundless harmony in the kitchen yet.

“So, Q, since we’ve all been dating for a few weeks, what are you looking for in all this?”

The younger man grins as he finishes slicing the veggies. “Commitment. Intimacy. Maybe love, eventually. And the fact that you both are willing to learn sign already goes a long way in convincing me of your intentions. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t willing to or who react in disgust at finding out I’m deaf without my hearing aids. My most recent ex managed to hide it for about two months before he dropped me for someone who had no problem hearing him.”

James and Alec share a glance before pulling Q into a joint hug. “We’re sorry, pet,” Trevelyan murmurs before kissing him gently for a moment. James takes over when Alec is done, taking his sweet time kissing their young boyfriend until he’s pliant and just a little bit dizzy.

“What-what do you both want?”

The bakers grin and hug Q again before turning back to the stove. “We want you. Thought that was obvious,” Alec says as he drizzles oil in the wok before adding in the vegetables.

“We’re both smitten with you, Q, just as you are. And we’ve always been open to bringing others into our bed, but we weren’t sure we’d find someone we both wanted to keep. Especially when we were both military men and all. It’s why my knee is… less than whole.”

Q glances down at James’s knee, eyeing the brace around it to help with his mobility from standing so long. “You had the kneecap shot out?”

“Well, it wasn’t deliberate. And Alec got the bastard. But… well, I should have done a better perimeter check.”

“You can’t blame yourself. Neither one of you. Sometimes these things happen.”

“How can you say that?”

“When I was four, I got very sick. Somehow I got the measles and when I finally recovered I had almost no hearing left at all. I’ve been wearing some form of hearing aid almost my whole life. So sometimes these things happen, James. Your outlook is all what you make of it. So what are you going to make of your life, Bond?”

James is speechless while Alec chuckles and turns away from the food to grin at them. “He’s got you there, James. And how many times have I said something similar?”

***

“I’m absolutely stuffed. That was brilliant food,” Q moans as he leans back in his chair and takes out his hearing aids. The world goes silent around him, and he closes his eyes as he massages his ears; he barely begins when he feels Alec’s hands encircle his wrists and pull his arms away while James begins to work the soreness from his earlobes. Q sinks back in his chair, half leaning against Trevelyan while Bond works. The pain seems to melt away under James’s fingers, and it’s so bloody brilliant.

Thank you, he signs once Alec gives him back use of his hands and he opens his eyes to look at both men.

You’re welcome.

Do you want to stay tonight?

Q blinks at them and realizes that he does. He doesn’t want to go home, so he grabs his mobile and sends a quick text to Eve asking her to care for Pippin (he gets back several winking faces and a teasing “Have fun” a few seconds later). I think I can stay tonight.

James clears the table while Alec washes the dishes so Q can dry. The moment the kitchen is clean, they whisk Q into the bedroom.

Do you mind wearing my shirt?

No, I don’t mind. I’m really mostly sleepy though. It’s been a long bloody week.

We can sleep and cuddle. It’s really okay.

Are you sure?

Q, we are. Trust us.

The younger man smiles and takes the clothes into the bathroom to change and quickly rinse his mouth in lieu of a toothbrush. He emerges in James’s shirt and still wearing his own pants and sees James and Alec turning down the duvet and beckoning to him. He grins and climbs onto the bed, thrilled to have their combined heat around him; it’s like two human sized hot water bottles under the covers. It seems like no time at all until he falls asleep, smiling while James presses kisses to his shoulder and Alec does the same to his forehead.

“Is he asleep?”

“I think so.”

“Alec… I think I’m in love.”

“You and me both, James.”

“I don’t want to lose him. I don’t even want to risk it.”

“Just continue being your wonderful self. A regular peach.”

“And here I thought we would escape the night without any bad puns.”

“Never ever.”

Chapter Text

December

 

December is Q’s favorite month of the whole year next to March (his birthday month, of course). He’s never minded the colder weather because it means shops and the town will decorate for Christmas, his favorite of all holidays. Nothing makes him smile quite like seeing trees strung up with lights and dangling “icicles” that glow in the early darkness as he brings back the shopping.

In his own shop, he paints the windows to look like scene from Rudolph and The Snowman and The Yule Ball. In addition to having tea ready for his customers, he also has hot cocoa and warmed cider, courtesy of Eve, Gareth, and Bill. The trio even stops in the first week of the month to visit as he opens the shop and touches up the holiday book displays.

“How are things with James and Alec?”

Trust Eve to go right for the gossip… though Q can’t help the smile that curls the corners of his mouth as he looks up at his friends. “It’s going really well. I’m so giddy with it all, I can’t even begin to tell you. I think James promised holiday biscuits to go with my cocoa today.”

“They’re good to you?” Mallory’s slightly frowning, and his concern makes Q’s heart swell a little.

“They’re wonderful. And they’re practicing their sign like it’s their job. I have to write things down way less than I used to. I really think they’re the loves of my life.”

All three of his friends hug him then with murmured congratulations and smiles.

“And you know if they ever do anything that we’ll come running?”

“Don’t hesitate to call. You have our number.”

Q blushes and smiles before shooing them out of his shop. “You have your own place to run, and Mallory, for god’s sake, take Tanner on a date. It’s the holidays and you can’t work yourselves into the ground again.”

Eve howls with laughter as she leads the married couple back to The Golden Brew.

***

Q first discovers the notes as he finishes putting out a gorgeous batch of iced treats that look like Christmas trees. Hidden beneath them all is a small sticky note with James’s handwriting.

For our sweet treat. 23 days until Christmas. -J

Grinning a little broader, Q puts the note between the pages of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and over the course of the next week, several others join the first.

Thinking about your lips this morning and the way they quirk when Alec tells a bad pun. -J

You make our days so much brighter just by being you. -J

Don’t eat all these in one place. Save some room for later, little strawberry. -A

Between you and Alec, I finally understand all those cheesy love songs. -J

Hope you have room for dinner tonight. James is pining for you. -A

Each note has him falling a little more in love with them, and he starts seriously hunting for their Christmas gifts on his lunch breaks. He wants it to be perfect this year.

James and Alec alternate bringing the baked goods to Q over the next few weeks; the younger man always saves back a few for himself before putting the rest of them out for his customers. Each platter has a little display card and a stack of business cards for Skyfall Bakery, and the cocoa has a similar display for The Golden Brew.

Q’s shop is singlehandedly responsible for doubling the traffic to the other places in early December. Bond and Trevelyan tell him, as they cuddle on the couch one evening after dinner, that their biscuit orders have tripled now from customers who sampled their goods at one of Q’s holiday book readings.

That’s wonderful! Q beams at them both and kisses them in turn. I’m so happy for you.

It’s all thanks to you. Clever thing.

You old charmer.

He’s the charmer. I think you’re a real sweet cookie.

Q rolls his eyes as Alec and James clearly shake with laughter. He curls up closer to them and soaks up as much of their body heat as he can, thinking about where things are and where they might head…

The three of them have made out plenty of times; it’s such a heady rush too, to have both men focused on him, and he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought of going further, but he’s not felt ready yet. It seems like a stupid reason as well, but it’s awkward sometimes to wear his hearing aids during sex, but it’s one of those rare activities when he wants to be able to hear everything.

He’s feeling insecure about it, but he won’t bring it up either. He doesn’t really know how if he’s honest. But the longer he’s with James and Alec the more he wants to share their bed for more than just sleeping.

For now, he puts on a smiling face and contents himself with sucking on James’s tongue while Alec mouths at his neck. For now, this is all right.

And after all, Christmas is coming…

***

“Do you want to spend the holidays with us?”

Q looks up from closing the register to see James and Alec standing there, grinning at him. “I thought you two had work to do.”

“Handed it off. We wanted to see our adorable boyfriend. Anyway, that doesn’t answer the question,” Alec replies. “Do you want to spend the Christmas holiday with us? We were thinking of closing the twenty-fourth through the twenty-sixth, decorating the tree, eating in, unwrapping presents.” He winks at Q and makes the younger man blush.

“If you want to unwrap me, does that mean I have to wear ribbons in my hair?”

James snorts and has to use the counter to prop himself up while he laughs. Alec’s lip twitches but the man remains inscrutable. “If you’d like.”

“I would love to spend the holiday with you both. So long as Pippin can come with me.”

“Of course he can. Pack for a few overnights. You can come by after work on the twenty-third and then stay?”

“That sounds perfect.”

***

He turns up on their doorstep, bundled in a heavy winter coat, a suitcase in one hand and Pippin’s leash with the dog attached in the other. James ushers him in out of the cold and steals several toe-curling kisses as he extracts Q from his coat. “Happy Early Christmas,” he murmurs against Q’s lips, his own voice soft and growling.

“And to you too,” the younger man murmurs back, shivering a little with something that has nothing to do with the cold.

“We have a surprise for you. Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

“Close your eyes.”

Q raises an eyebrow but does, letting James lead him through to the main living room of their flat. The scent of pine washes over him. It could be a scented candle… or…

“All right. Open.”

“Is it a library?” Q teases before opening his eyes and gasping. “It’s gorgeous! When did you get it?”

“Earlier today. We wanted you to have a real tree your first Christmas with us.” Alec brings over hot cider for Q to sip. “Thought we’d listen to the King’s College service tomorrow while we decorate. Spend the morning baking and preparing food for the next few days. Hang some garlands. Maybe some mistletoe…” He winks and Q blushes, the younger man leaning back against James as the blond hugs him.

“The pair of you are something else… I’m a lucky man to have you both.”

“We’re the lucky ones,” James murmurs before kissing just under Q’s ear. “Now. Let’s get you and Pip settled in.”

***

The great majority of the next day is spent in James’s and Alec’s arms. Both men seem convinced that their flat is “too cold” and therefore need to keep Q warm with constant cuddles; it’s so adorable that Q just goes along with it, grinning at them and snuggling closer as soon as they pull him into a toasty embrace. Alec has gotten out the boxes of decorations while James cooks, keeping Q close and teaching him how to make Swiss Rolls and how to properly ice sugar cookies to look like snowflakes. Q can’t remember the last time he smiled this much in a single day, and he’s aware of how natural this all feels. How domestic. Pippin keeps out from underfoot in the kitchen, so they reward him with a few table scraps, and James promises beef stew for everyone for dinner, even Pip.

Alec pulls Q away from Bond long enough to show him the boxes of decorations and to point up coyly at a piece of mistletoe he’d only just hung. “Oh would you look at that.”

“You scoundrel-” is all Q manages to say before Alec drags him into a deep, bruising kiss. “We’re both so happy to have you here, strawberry,” he murmurs against Q’s lips. “But I also wanted to ask… you always hold back with us, and you don’t have to. Whatever you want is okay with the both of us.”

Q flushes and leans into Alec’s arms, his reasons for not initiating anything and holding back suddenly tumbling out: insecurity about his hearing aids, wanting to be able to hear how much they want him because it’s actually one of his favorite things in the world, not wanting to come up short in their eyes.

“Q… pet… we adore you exactly as you are. We’ll do whatever you like and at whatever pace you like. But don’t feel you have to be insecure about who you are. To us, you’re perfect.”

Maybe Alec doesn’t know that he’s said exactly what Q needed to hear, but the younger man kisses Trevelyan deeply, holding onto his shoulders until they finally surface for air. “Thank you, Alec. I mean it,” he whispers before hugging the man again.

“Anytime, strawberry. Come on, James will think I’ve stolen you away.”

“You weren’t trying to?”

“Cheeky thing.”

They snack for lunch and finish hanging garlands in the windows and unpacking all the ornaments just in time for the afternoon service. Alec tunes the radio to the right station while James tests the strings of Christmas lights.

“My family would listen to this every Christmas Eve,” Q says, sipping his mulled wine. James had insisted they needed some in order to decorate, and he wasn’t about to argue. “Music is one of those things I would really miss if I were completely deaf. It’s so powerful.”

James hums in agreement as Alec joins Q on the sofa.

“So. We letting him decorate all on his own?”

“Well I was enjoying my wine, but I’m happy to help.”

“How about you hold the bundle of lights while he wraps them. He knows how to get them perfect.”

“What will you do?”

“Make sure we have enough ornament hangers.”

Two hours later and the lights are on the tree and it’s mostly decorated. James and Alec have a surprising number of ornaments, many of them collector’s items or little handmade baubles they’d inherited. Q checks out the window to see how dark things have gotten, and he squeals in excitement, pulling James and Alec to his side in seconds.

Outside it has begun to snow slowly, muffling the darkened world under a layer of white. It’s fluttering down steadily, beautifully, flakes dancing with each other to join their brethren in the growing accumulation on the ground.

“It’s so beautiful… it’s going to be a perfect Christmas.”

The older bakers share a glance; Alec nods and James touches Q’s shoulder to get his attention.

Q, he signs, we have something we want to ask you.

What is it? He’s still wearing his hearing aids, so he’s not sure why they’re signing.

We want to know if you’ll be our boyfriend. Officially. If you’ll be ours.

Q’s eyes widen, and he looks over to Alec, the question written all over his face.

Yes, strawberry. Will you? We both want you to be ours.

I was going to ask you both. Tonight. The same question.

James and Alec share another grin and Bond gently pulls Q close first. “We grow more smitten with you every day,” he murmurs before kissing Q gently, softly.

“We want to give you everything we can, everything in the world, Q. And we know it’s only been a few months, but we don’t care. We’ve fallen in love with you.”

Q’s breathing hitches at Alec’s words and he turns to kiss the other man as well, holding James tight and close as he does.

“You daft gits. I’ve been in love with you for ages now.”

“Would you like your first present tonight? Well, it’s gifts for all of us.”

“You didn’t… pyjamas?!”

James grins and fetches three brightly wrapped packages, handing them out. Alec’s have reindeer on them, James’s have snowmen, and Q’s are covered in snowflakes. “They’re perfect!!!! Oh I love them!” Q rushes into the bathroom to get changed, leaving James and Alec in the living room. He returns a few moments later, changed, to find the men deep in conversation.

“Everything all right? You both look so serious.”

James smiles and takes in the sight of Q in his new pyjamas. “You look adorable.”

“Oi, stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“The flattery. You’ll make me blush.”

Alec smirks. “Is that so? Don’t you want to blush for us, gorgeous thing?”

“You both should get changed. We need to sleep soon. It’s Christmas tomorrow.” He ushers his boyfriends (oh my god!) out of the room so he can place his gifts for them beneath the tree. He’ll sleep between them once more tonight, but tomorrow… tomorrow he’ll get to be their gift as well. Q takes out his hearing aids, welcoming the silent world as he stares out the window and watches the snow falling. If someone had looked up from the street right at that moment, they would have seen the happiest person on earth watching the magic in the air as it snows on Christmas Eve.

***

“That… was… amazing…”

Q is lying on the bed between James and Alec, the three of them panting hard. Their pyjamas are scattered around the room, and Q’s neck and collarbone are covered in purpling love bites. His body aches pleasantly as it hasn’t in months and months, and he’s grinning like an idiot.

“I rather enjoyed myself.”

“Hell of a way to wake up.”

“You were both awake for ages before I was.”

“Mmmmm, we were. I love watching you sleep,” James murmurs before kissing Q lazily. “And you scream so nicely when you come for us.”

Q flushes as Alec mouths at his neck. “Indeed. I think that’s a sound I want to hear more.”

“We haven’t even eaten yet. Or done presents.”

“I think we have the best present in the world right here in our bed.”

“Oh come on that’s hardly fair. I have the both of you. I think I’m the lucky one in this scenario.”

“Are you sure about that? I’ve been stuck with him for ages. Hey!” Alec splutters as he takes a pillow to the face from James. Q giggles and ducks out of the way as the two men begin smacking each other with their pillows. Bond notices their lover trying to escape so he drags him back up and uses him as a shield.

“Now that’s just cheating.”

“Oh I was thinking we could team up on him. Are you ticklish, Q?”

“Don’t. You. Dare.”

Alec smirks and begins to dance his fingers down Q’s ribs, making the younger man squeal with laughter while James holds him still. It’s ages before they stumble out of bed and into the shower, getting dressed in pyamas and delightful ugly Christmas sweaters (laid out in wrapped packages at the foot of the bed). It’s as they’re eating sticky buns and drinking coffee and cocoa over breakfast that Q realizes just how much he wants this to be a regular thing. He doesn’t want to just sleep over from time to time. He’s in love with these men. He wants to live with them.

“What happens after the holiday? When we have to go back to work and our respective flats?”

James and Alec glance at each other before looking back to Q. “We… well, we rather hoped you might move in with us. Or if this flat is too small, look for a place all of us would be happy.” Bond takes Q’s hand and kisses his knuckles. “We very much want to keep you.”

“Absolutely. Living space is details. You’re the main story. You’re our happy ending.”

Q blushes, smiling at them. “Well then… we’re definitely going to need a bigger flat. I have way more books than will fit in here.”

Alec laughs first, the sound echoing a little in the room as James grins and sucks some of the icing off Q’s finger. “We’ll start looking after the holidays. Now, presents?”

“It’s definitely time for presents.”

Chapter Text

2 May 2017

There's not a dry eye in he store when Q finishes reading from Deathly Hallows. All the Uni students who managed to get out of studying and come by, the adults who wandered in to see about the crowds, even James and Alec are weeping when their lover closes the book in his hands. Q sets the novel down and wipes his own eyes before standing and pulling his wand from his pocket. "A moment of silence for those who fell in the Battle of Hogwarts."

Q has been planning this event for a month now. The shop is covered in banners for the four houses; he even hired James and Alec to paint scenes from all seven books in the windows of the shop. There's pumpkin juice and Butterbeer to drink, baked sweets and treats decorated in house colors or designed to look like Horcruxes. Most everyone who's shown up is even wearing robes. Q's are Ravenclaw, James wear Gryffindor, and Alec, after several personality quizzes, decided to wear Slytherin.

"Raise your wands. And count to three."

Everyone in the shop obeys, and when they say 'three', the shop goes dark and hundreds of fairy lights turn on. Q's particularly proud of this. A simple remote and a timer along with several strings of lights hung up from the ceiling to give the impression that everyone in the room has just cast a spell.

"Today we remember the fallen. We honor those who lost their lives fighting to protect the Wizarding World. And we celebrate all those who survived to tell the story for them."

He lowers his wand and brings the lights back up. "Thank you all for coming today. Please help yourself to refreshments, and there's a discount for anyone buying any Harry Potter or other fantasy novels today." Q circulates and mingles with the patrons while James and Alec watch.

"I still can't believe he's ours."

"Or that we're all living together. It's weird. But in a good way. And Pippin definitely likes us."

"Two months already and I'm so happy. With both of you."

"Look at him with those kids too. He's such a wonderful, special person."

"How did we get so lucky?"

"I'll let you know when I figure it out."

Q comes over then, grinning and hugging each of them in turn. "You both look so handsome in your robes. Really wonderful. And I look forward to going home with you tonight."

"Until then, we can stay? Ronson and Smith have the bakery today."

"I'd love for you to, James."

"And can we sneak you into dark corners and steal kisses?"

Q blushes and grins. "You did that during lunch."

Alec smirks. "And you were delicious."

The younger man hugs them both again. "I love you. Both of you."

James tilts Q's head up to look him in the eye, smiling with so much love and warmth he thinks his heart might burst. "Even after all this time?"

A single happy year trickles down Q's cheek as he kisses James, then Alec. "Always."