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at home and abroad

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1.

"I'm not certain about you," Madeleine says, shivering against the brisk wind as they step off the bridge onto the road, "but after all of that, I need some sleep."

"Of course." James leans in and kisses her temple. He smells like sweat and blood, and the lingering burn of gunpowder. She thinks she should be more bothered by it than she is. "Hotel, or my place?"

"Yours. And if there are some shops open, I could do with a few things." James certainly must be in possession of toiletries, but all she has are the clothes on her back and no desire to wash her underwear in a sink.

The corner of his mouth lifts in half a smile. "I know of a couple on the way if you don't mind a few minutes' walk before we catch a taxi. We can stay at the flat here in the city tonight, and you can do some real shopping tomorrow before we go out to the house."

"House?"

"Yes, I have a place out in Amersham. It's a bit of a drive to get to work, but it's all right via train, and it's a good place to get away to." James slips an arm around her shoulders and she's grateful for the warmth. He adds, "I think you'll like it."

*

James disappears late in the morning with a promise that he'll return with breakfast, and saying she can do whatever she likes with whatever she finds in the flat. Madeleine lazes in the bed a while longer - it's comfortable and the sheets are very soft - before pulling on James' robe and digging through the kitchen. There's both tea and coffee, but the pint of milk in the refrigerator has gone off. She tosses it and drinks a cup of black coffee while wandering through the flat and looking at the art that James has propped up against the walls and not actually hung.

He comes back with a garment bag draped over one arm and a small box in his hand. "Only croissants and fruit," he says, putting the box on the kitchen counter. "I see you found the coffeemaker."

"The milk was spoiled."

"Sorry. Can I make it up to you with a new dress?"

"Ah, certainly," she says, smiling. "Show me what you've found."

It's a simple dark green jersey, along with a black peacoat and a thin scarf. "I know a very nice place for shoes on the way," James says. "Although if you'd like to simply laze about the house, we don't need to worry about shoes."

The pair she has is currently coated in a thin layer of concrete dust. She'd kicked them off into a corner of James' bedroom last night before they fell into bed, bruised and exhausted. "Lazing about sounds very appealing. Don't you need to check in, for your job?"

"I told them I wouldn't be in the office for a few days. They know how reach me if it's necessary." His expression says it better not be necessary.

They eat, then Madeleine gets dressed in the new clothes and the underthings she bought at the drugstore last night. "I like this casual look," she tells James as they leave the flat.

"Perfect for a car ride." He gestures to the Aston Martin parked at the curb. "Let me get the door for you."

The passenger seat is soft and comfortable, and Madeleine relaxes as James drives them out of the city. The London traffic gives way to more sedate suburban drivers, and she's watching the leafless trees flicker by when he turns into a long driveway. At the top of it is a square two-story house, with arched windows and a portico in the front. There's a Peugeot already parked in the drive.

James keys in, and a voice Madeleine's sure she's heard before calls, "You're here already? What for?" before she sees James' co-worker Q step into the hall. "Oh, hello."

"You've already met my husband Q," James says, and Madeleine blinks.

She turns toward him, saying, "Your -"

Q rolls his eyes and interrupts with, "On paper only; he only likes to say it to judge people for their reactions -"

"Ah, yes, don't mind me being an asshole," James says.

Q ignores him. "A quirk of paperwork, if you will. Someone's slightly paranoid about MI-6 selling off his property and possessions should he disappear again."

"It's happened before," James says to her, by way of explanation. It doesn't actually explain anything, but she knows there's a lot about James she doesn't know. "We're not married-married." He waves a hand as if that settles it.

"But you live here together," she says, feeling rather bewildered as she looks between the two of them.

"Sometimes. As you've seen, my work schedule doesn't exactly follow a schedule." James replies. To Q, he says, "Nice touch, the line about the mortgage and the cats." Then he winks. "Where are the cats?"

"They're around somewhere. Have you noticed, he likes to joke," Q says dryly, to Madeleine.

She shakes her head. "I - We were too busy surviving far too many attempts to kill us."

Q makes a face. "That's no way to treat a woman, Bond."

James is scoffing now. "Don't gang up on me, you two. Would anyone care for a drink?"

He moves smoothly down the hallway to a sitting room with a small bar along one side. Madeleine thinks to herself that this house looks much bigger on the inside. She looks through another doorway and sees a kitchen that's nearly the size of her first flat.

"What do you do with all this space? Do either of you even cook?" she asks, looking back over her shoulder at them.

James doesn't pause in his measuring. "Q does, occasionally."

"Are either of you hungry?" Q asks. He goes past her into the kitchen, pausing to air-kiss her cheek. "I could see what's still good in the fridge; I'm afraid neither of us have been here in several days."

"You might as well, we haven't done lunch," James says, before he lifts the cocktail shaker. "Although it's nearly dinner. We slept rather late."

Madeleine waits until he's done pouring, then asks, "You really live here?"

"Sometimes. Mostly, Q lives here." James holds out a glass for her to take. "Cheers."

"Tchin-tchin," she replies, and takes a sip. The martini is perfectly chilled and perfectly balanced. "This is excellent, James."

"No lemon, I'm afraid."

"I think I can cobble something together," Q calls from the kitchen. "All right?"

"Whatever you fix is fine," James replies, raising an eyebrow at Madeleine. "Yes?"

That's directed towards her. "Yes."

"I'll give Q his drink, and we can retire to the dining room."

Of course there's a dining room. "Lead the way."

Q rolls his eyes at the martini - "such an old standby, 007" - but takes it nonetheless.

"What would you drink otherwise?" James asks and, without waiting for an answer, steers Madeleine to the dining room.

It's less ornate than her imagination was expecting; a square table with four chairs and a cabinet full of glassware. "All Q's," James says, when he sees her looking. "Don't have much of my own, only the cheap stuff in that flat MI-6 rents for me in the city."

"I don't have much of my own either," she says, and they smile at each other over the rims of their martinis.

Madeleine admires the glassware for a moment longer, then settles into the chair James pulls out for her. "Is his name really Q?" she murmurs before she sips her drink.

"I've no idea what it was before MI-6," James answers, but surely he must have seen it if both their names are on the papers for the house. "You could certainly ask him," he adds, then tips back a large portion of his martini.

"It's Peter, really," Q tells her over salmon he'd gotten from somewhere and saffron rice studded with raisins. "But I was never really a Peter, and distinctly not a Pete, so Q suits me quite fine."

"Well, it seems we all have the experience of using names we were not born with," she replies.

Q gives James a look. "One of us insists on using his given name even in situations where it's in his best interests not to."

James waves his fork and says, "Only when my adversary is going to find out no matter what."

"You can't know that," Q replies.

"You have to admit that within our community, I'm not some unknown quantity."

Q sighs. "That doesn't mean I don't wish you'd act like you were, sometimes. And M and Tanner both agree with me."

This argument feels well-worn to Madeleine, and judging from the expression on James' face, it's definitely one they've had before. She takes another few bites, then says, "I will say, in James' defense, that given enough surveillance resources - and those certainly exist right now - you can find a person no matter the name they're using."

"Thankfully we blew up one of them." James aims a look at Q. "And speaking of finding a person, any chance I can get rid of this ridiculous SmartBlood?"

"It's my finest programming," Q protests, but even Madeleine can tell his expression of outrage is completely false.

James finishes off his martini. "A radio transmitter works just the same."

"Until you lose it."

James smiles at that. "I'm sure M would agree that I've proven my loyalty."

"It's not a matter of loyalty, Bond, it's knowing where to send backup," Q mutters. "Despite the money you cost my department, I'd rather not see you killed."

"That's sweet, Q."

"Do go make us another round."

James stands and collects their glasses. When he's gone, Madeleine tilts her head towards Q. "Is he in the habit of disappearing?"

"Yes." Q nudges his plate away. "But while I give him shit for it, I will say that it's almost always for a reason that turns out legitimate in the end, such as your latest adventure. Killing Sciarra certainly set off a chain of events that culminated in last night's arrest, but doing so in the first place saved a stadium full of people from being blown up. And I suppose that the argument could be made that he was on assignment all along."

"From your old boss, the one who was killed. He's told me about her."

Q nods. "The other agents, they're sent out, they complete their assignments and return with whatever intel it is, or the confirmed kill of whichever terrorist it is they've been sent after, that sort of thing. James... I don't know quite how to put it. So much of what he ends up doing feels like destiny."

He holds her gaze for a second before he reaches up and loosens the collar of his shirt, then collects their plates and carries them away into the kitchen as James returns with three martinis held carefully. He takes in the now-empty table. "Are we retiring to another room?"

Madeleine lifts her hand as if to say I don't know. "The fireplace in the sitting room is nice," James continues, "and I believe we discussed lazing about? I could do with an evening of doing absolutely nothing."

"That sounds perfect."

"I'll put these down, then show you the rest of the house."

There's a long, plush sofa and a chair in the sitting room, and a large coffee table with a puzzle started on it. "Q does them to relax," James says as he sets the glasses on a side table.

Upstairs, he points out his bedroom and Q's. Through the open door of Q's room, she sees two orange cats curled up asleep on the bed. "There's a half-bath downstairs, but the shower's up here," James says, opening a door. "It connects to Q's room through the other side, just so you know. He's here more than I am, so he got the master."

"And the whirlpool tub?"

"Feel free to use it; we never do."

Q's claimed the chair and a martini when they go back downstairs, so Madeleine stretches out on the sofa with her feet in James' lap. He sweeps a gentle thumb over the bones of her ankle. "All this talk of global surveillance and no television?" Madeleine asks, taking a sip of her drink.

Q smiles and aims a remote at the paneling above the fireplace. It slides apart to reveal a recessed flat-screen. He gives her a questioning look. "Anything but the news," she says.

One of the pumpkin-colored cats wanders through the room, making plenty of noise, and Q tosses the remote over to James. "The children require dinner," he says, and follows the cat out of the room. Madeleine watches the second streak through a moment later.

James finds an old black and white with Humphrey Bogart, and leaves the television there. To Madeleine he says, "There is a guest room on this floor, but right now it's full of computer parts, and a half-finished thing that Q says is supposed to be a robot butler. We weren't exactly planning on company."

"I don't mind sharing with you."

James strokes his thumb over the top of her foot. "Some nights I'll have to drink myself to sleep," he says, the words even, a simple fact. "Depending on how long you stay. Sometimes I need drugs."

"And sometimes you don't sleep at all," Q adds quietly as he returns.

Madeleine reaches out to cup the side of James' face. They haven't discussed her future plans and right now, she doesn't want to. "It's fine. Whatever you do, it's fine."

*

After a few days, the cats have grown used to her, and will curl up somewhere near while she reads in the library or does research online. Q informed her they're called Spic and Span, that they came with those names from the animal shelter he adopted them from, as a bonded pair. Indeed, she never sees one without the other nearby, and if there's a fire burning they'll lie together in front of it.

James is in Iceland for something he hadn't spoken any details of, so Q is alone when he returns to the house one evening. Madeleine looks up from the book she's reading and sees he's brought a thick envelope in one hand and a good bottle of wine in the other. He's still dressed for work, in a sweater and jacket. "Your laptop is on our network, so I can see what you've been looking at," he says without preamble. Then he holds out the envelope. "I thought you might like to read the full report."

Madeleine looks at the envelope but doesn't take it. "You won't lose your job for showing me this?"

"We'll burn it when you've finished. James and I both figure you have a right to know, seeing as he was your father." Q sets the envelope on the side table and holds up the wine. "I'll pour, shall I?"

"Will you change? I feel so underdressed." She never got out of what she'd worn to bed, a silk nightgown and robe James had come home with the second day, and she'd seen Q look at her so she knows he's noticed.

"Certainly," she hears him call back down the long hall.

She reaches for the envelope, and is lost in the report when Q returns in his own nightclothes. He doesn't try to make conversation, instead settling in the chair and murmuring to the cats while she reads, occasionally adding more wine to her glass when she holds it out. At one point, she realizes he's left the room, and she looks at the clock only to be astounded that more than an hour has passed.

"I hope you planned on getting drunk tonight," he says when he returns, a second bottle in hand and a plate of cheese, crackers, and fruit. Madeleine hadn't even realized she was starving.

"Well, as long as you're drinking with me," she says.

The food is gone when she finishes reading, and her head is swimming. "I knew it was terrible, but this..." She shakes her head and gets up to stand by the fire, watching the flames.

Q joins her. "Would you like to burn it or shall I?"

She wipes at the tears she can now feel on her face and divides the papers into rough halves. "For what that man did to my father, and what he's done to James," she says, and drops her half into the fire.

The flames grow satisfyingly larger as the paper burns, but the effect doesn't last long. She watches for a few minutes, then sits down on the floor. Q sits down as well, and she can feel his gaze on her as she stretches to retrieve her wineglass. The silk of the nightgown feels lovely against her skin as she moves, then she settles back on the rug with her glass held carefully. A few more mouthfuls and she'll be pleasantly numb. She wants that feeling, craves it tonight.

They drink instead of talking until the bottle is empty. Then Madeleine asks, blunt, "Do you and James ever sleep together?".

Q's already looking at her; he has been for a while. "Mmm, sometimes."

"Is it good?"

"Usually."

She stretches her free hand over to run along his arm, uses her fingertips to feel the bones in his wrist, stronger than the almost delicate appearance he puts forth. "Does he hold you down when he fucks you?"

"Actually, we usually do it the other way around," Q replies, an amused note in his voice, but also something else. He turns his hand over to slide his fingers along hers. "Would you like me to do the same to you?"

Madeleine puts her glass out of the way and moves closer, nearly on top of him. She says, "James and I didn't even make love until we came here. We would have, on the train, but he was too sore and bruised from being beat on by that man - Hinx, your report says - so he only used his mouth on me. I could actually sleep after that, despite my own bruises. But I think James had to drink himself unconscious."

Then she leans down and kisses Q, and he responds immediately. One hand sweeps through her hair, then cups the back of her neck. His other hand slides under her robe and up her leg beneath the nightgown, and Madeleine sighs, low. Before James, she'd been fairly celibate for a few years, the consequence of keeping to herself, keeping to sparsely-populated areas, working at the high-end, out of the way clinics.

Her body has felt more awake the last couple weeks than she thinks it's felt in years. Q's fingertips are slightly rough on her inner thigh, making her shiver, then he's cupping her gently for a second before his thumb finds her clitoris. "Oh - yes."

"Yes?" he asks. Madeleine kisses him again in answer. Her hips jerk of their own accord as he draws small circles over her clit, then teases two fingertips right at the entrance to her body.

"Yes, that," she says to the unspoken question, and Q pushes his fingers into her.

"I could do just this," he says.

"No, I need -" she slides a hand over his thigh, feeling the lean muscle there, then pulls on the waistband of his silky pajama bottoms. "Did James buy you these?"

"He did," Q chuckles, moving so she can free his cock from the material. "I refuse to wear the entire set together, though - ah, Maddie. Can I call you that?"

"Yes." She thinks briefly of a long-ago lover who called her that, and hikes up her nightgown. Q kisses her slowly as she lowers herself onto him. "Shall I still call you Q as we do this?" she asks, sighing.

"Please."

She sets a leisurely pace, enjoying the feel of it - Q's not as well-endowed as James but his cock curves just enough for her to really feel it - and too dizzy with all the wine to move much faster. Q breathes hot against her neck and skims his thumbs over her nipples. It makes her shiver, and she pushes the robe and the straps of the nightgown both off her shoulders, hoping Q will take the hint. He does, immediately, moving his mouth to her breast. Madeleine groans and puts her hand in his hair.

She comes sooner than she expects, a slow, warm orgasm, the sort that blooms gently through her whole body, and she feels it soak Q's fingers where he's tracing lightly over her clit. He makes a surprised sound against her neck, and Madeleine can't help but laugh softly. "I could lean against the sofa," she says when she's caught her breath again.

"It won't be too much? I could just jerk off if you're spent."

She lifts carefully off of him and kneels up against the edge of the cushions. "Come on."

Q holds her hips and fucks her with short, controlled thrusts. She thinks about him doing this to James and has to muffle her moan against her arm. Q kisses underneath her ear and comes with more an exhale than a groan, and stays leaning against her for a few moments. Madeleine lets herself enjoy the feel of him. "Shall I clean you up?" he whispers in her ear, and she moans at the thought. "I'll take that as a yes."

His tongue is gentle and he stops before the sensation becomes too much for her liking. Madeleine slumps onto the rug. "That was lovely, thank you," she murmurs, tangling her fingers into Q's hair.

"Mmm, I'm certain the pleasure was mine," he replies with a smile. He nudges his glasses back up into place and Madeleine realizes he'd never taken them off.

"However did James end up with you?" she asks, because it's a question neither of them have answered yet for her.

"Convenience, really."

"Really, just so that he'd have a person to deal with his estate?"

Q turns his head, pillowed on his arm, to look at her. "He never mentioned that it is an actual estate? He's quite wealthy. The money went into a trust when his parents died, and he's been too busy serving HMG to really spend all that much since. MI-6 pays him well, what with the life expectancy of the double-ohs, so he could probably afford the cars and the suits even without the inheritance. But he did use some of it for this house."

Madeleine stretches out on her back, looking up at the ceiling. "It's a lovely place."

"Sometimes I wonder if he's not trying to make up for the ancestral home that burned to nothing - he did tell you about that?"

"Yes."

Q's quiet for a moment. Spic wanders over and Madeleine strokes a hand over the cat's soft fur. "I have to admit, I'm still not sure how he talked me into this," Q says after a while. "The paperwork marriage part, I mean."

"Is there anyone else he might have asked?"

"I suppose only Moneypenny, but she's very attached to her flat in the city proper. And it's not as though I was looking to marry someone for love and children and all that." He chuckles softly. "I do hope he understands there's too much money involved now to divorce me."

Madeleine thinks about what she wants to say for a moment before she says it. "James, he... doesn't seem to be the marrying for love type."

"Not after Vesper, no," Q murmurs. He moves a little closer so their shoulders touch. "Should we talk of more pleasant things? I could explain the robot butler."

"Please."

 

 

2.

It's only half past eight, London time, when James exits the plane that had ferried him from Iceland, but he's been awake for almost twenty-four hours and even the soles of his feet feel heavy. He's instructed to go home and return for debrief in the morning. Looking for his car, he's not all that surprised to find Q's taken the Bentley from the underground park, and the attendant quickly arranges for a company car to drive him out to Amersham. Drowsing and sore in the back seat, James figures it's for the best that someone else drive him home. Q had probably planned on that.

The main lights are on in the house, looking warm and inviting despite the current chill in the air. James thanks the driver, then rings the doorbell. He could pick the lock, but why? Q's shadow is already in the hall. He's smiling at James as he opens the door. "Bond. Back in one piece, I see."

"Iceland was surprisingly pleasant for this time of year." James hangs his overcoat and scarf on the hook, then kisses Q briefly on the mouth. "Is Madeleine still here?"

"Yes, she's in the kitchen."

Madeleine is making tea. She leaves the spoon in the cup to come kiss him hello, cupping his jaw warmly. "How was your assignment?"

"Cold."

"Good, you've arrived in time for a cup of something hot."

"I'll pass," James says dryly, taking a glass from a cupboard. He splashes in a couple inches of scotch. "Q?"

Q shakes his head. "I'm fine with tea."

James undoes his tie, then says, "I'm going to change, I've been in this suit for too long." He takes his glass with him and hears their murmur of conversation - something about the Turing test - as he goes up the staircase to the master bath. In the mirror he checks for any cuts or scrapes he might have missed, but there's only the bruise on his ribs from a brief tussle with the lone guard.

"James, do you need medical?" Q asks from somewhere out in the bedroom.

"No, I'm fine," he calls back, but Q steps into the doorway anyway, his gaze moving clinically over James' body for a moment. "It's nothing, really," James adds.

Q's eyes narrow. "You could have an arrow sticking straight through your side and still say you're fine."

"Who uses arrows these days?"

Q ignores him to open the medicine cabinet and remove one of the single-use packets of antibacterial. They keep things well-stocked, just in case. "Looks as though you were tossed against some concrete or stone bricks of some sort."

"That's astute." James doesn't move as Q's warm fingers smear the slightly sticky ointment over a part of his back that had looked merely red to him in the mirror. The sting now tells him that some skin had been scraped off.

"Well?" Q asks, like James had ignored some question.

"Is this a debriefing?"

Q takes a step away, his fingers no longer on James' skin. "No. Merely an inquiry from someone rather concerned for your well-being these days." He nudges on the faucet and begins to wash his hands.

"That's not -" necessary, he stops himself from finishing. "It was a stone wall. Waist high. Seems it roughed me up a little more than I could tell in the mirror on the plane home. Just one security guard, in the right place at the right time. Or maybe the wrong place. I'm sure he looks worse."

"By the time the mortician's done with him, I daresay he'll look better." Q switches off the water and reaches for a towel.

James leans in close to him and murmurs, "If you must know, I didn't kill him."

Q's incredulous look is screamingly loud. "Really?"

"Is that so hard to believe?"

"Turn around so I can put a bandage on that spot," Q says instead, and James complies.

When the gauze and tape have been neatly applied, Q's hands slide around his waist, and his mouth comes to rest on James' shoulder. James gives him a moment, then asks, "Did you and Madeleine enjoy your time alone?"

A soft puff of laughter against his skin. "We certainly made the most of it. Felt almost like a holiday from my real life."

James hums, then turns around so he can put his arms around Q. "Maybe we should take an actual holiday."

"The three of us, you mean?"

"Whoever would like to go." James squeezes Q's ass, then lets go of him to walk from the bathroom to the large closet in search of something soft to wear. "Unless you've run out of holiday hours already."

"More like I think Madeleine might leave here soon," Q replies, trailing behind him.

James finds a plain t-shirt and pulls it over his head. "What makes you believe that?"

"She's a woman who likes to have something to do," Q says, and James can't disagree there. "And there's little for her to do here. All of her things are still at the clinic. They're holding her position for her."

"Has she spoken to them?"

"Yes, I have," Madeleine says from behind them. "Don't you know better than to talk about a person when they're only a few rooms away?"

James gives her an apologetic look and tugs on a pair of sweatpants. His robe is still on the hook; he puts it on over everything, and finally feels as though he's at home. "Sorry, darling," he murmurs in Madeleine's ear, kissing her cheek. "It was the natural progression of a conversation. How would you feel about going on holiday with us?"

"I suppose I'm the one who's sorry, as Q is correct," she says, and frowns slightly when James raises a brow at her. "Staying here with you both has been like a vacation for me. A strange dream almost. And lovely. But the clinic needs an answer, and to be blunt, I'm worried about a few of my patients there."

James is not surprised at that as much as he's surprised at the wash of disappointment he feels. "Will you be leaving soon?"

Madeleine loops her arms around his neck. "I need to let them know by the end of this week."

Today is Thursday. "It sounds as though you've made up your mind already." He kisses her lightly on the lips. "I suppose we can't keep you in nightgowns by the fire forever."

"They are beautiful nightgowns," she chuckles, as Q steps up behind her and lifts her hair back carefully from her shoulders, then presses a kiss to the side of her neck. "Ah, that's nice. I'll miss the both of you. You'll come visit me often?"

"It's very cold there," James grumbles, but he doesn't mean it.

"Strange men menaced me on the ski lift," Q adds, and James laughs.

"I'll stay a few more days," Madeleine says, trailing her fingers over the stubble on James' face and looking at him in a way that says she's surreptitiously checking for injuries. Not that he minds all that much. "You should both come to see me off, though."

"Of course."

Q's slipped out of the room, but he's easily found downstairs in the kitchen, drinking his tea and doing something on the laptop that's sitting on the counter. "I would have thought you'd be in bed by now," he says unexpectedly, and James coughs into his scotch. "What? We're all adults. Everyone in this house has had sex with everyone else. You can't be surprised that Madeleine and I slept together while you were gone."

"I just wanted to finish my drink." James leans over his shoulder and kisses the corner of his mouth, even as he thinks to himself that it's not something he normally does outside of when he wants to get Q in bed. Q doesn't even blink. James asks, "What are you working on at this hour?".

"Just double-checking all our firewalls and the camera feeds from Blofeld's cell." His fingers pause over the keyboard. "Would you like to see?"

"No." He doesn't need to see Oberhauser, sitting behind the clear panel, no doubt using every neuron and synapse in his genius brain to construct an escape plan, one that would no doubt cause James a great deal of pain. Not for the first time, he wonders just when the resentment reached the unbearable point for Franz.

"Don't look so sour," Q says, and returns James' kiss, his mouth soft. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

Q gives him a look and lifts the glass from James' hand to take a sip. "I could get you your own," James suggests.

"I prefer the occasional taste of yours," Q replies, then refocuses his attention on the computer screen. This time he's pulled up some sort of schematic; it looks to be unrelated to Oberhauser or Spectre.

James goes into the sitting room, where Madeleine is reading with one of the cats beside her. James sits down and the cat makes a funny grumbling noise before pushing its head into James' hand, so he knows it's Span. "Aren't you exhausted?" Madeleine asks.

"Yes, but it's nice to enjoy the feeling of being home." He strokes Span's head softly, and the cat makes a tiny huffing sound and inches closer so he's settled by James' thigh.

Madeleine gives him a fond look. "You believe me that I'm sorry about going, don't you?"

"Of course." He tucks a few loose strands of hair behind her ear, then ruins it by yawning hugely as she laughs at him. "All right, all right."

"I'll come up in a bit, if you do want to go to sleep."

James finishes off his scotch, then prods Span gently out of the way. "I'll lie down here, if you don't mind."

He settles with his head on Madeleine's thigh, closing his eyes and sighing as she scratches her fingertips lightly through his hair. "Is this why you got a couch so extraordinarily long?" she asks.

"Mmm, Q doesn't usually let me fall asleep on him, he's a terrible husband," he murmurs back, and hears Q's huff at the same time he feels her soft laugh.

"Bond, you never asked," Q says. His voice sounds annoyed, but the hand that rubs very nicely over James' head is definitely not Madeleine's. He falls asleep content in the fact that they're both touching him.

*

M agrees to let Madeleine fly back to Austria on MI-6's dime, but she insists on taking the train instead. "It'll let me prepare myself mentally," she says firmly. "And I can break for a bit in Paris, do some shopping. There's a little place on the Boulevard Saint-Germain where I buy my perfumes."

"I admit I'm slightly disappointed you don't seem to want my company on the journey," James says, as they sit at the bar in Fortnum's at St. Pancras, having drinks before her train is scheduled to depart.

"You are supposed to go back to work," she replies.

James tips the rest of the martini down his throat. "As if that's stopped me before."

Madeleine puts another olive in her mouth and chews, watching him as she does. "I need to do this myself. I know you understand that, James."

He signals for another drink, but nods. "It's not often I'm -" he stops, because he told her about Vesper, and how all the women he's slept with since were either inconsequential or necessary to complete some part of his job.

"Your husband is very good in bed," Madeleine says. "Perhaps you should allow yourself to enjoy his company for a time." She nudges the dish of olives towards him, and he takes one.

"It's a business arrangement," he reminds her as his fresh martini is delivered.

There's the barest quirk of her mouth as she steals his glass for a sip. "So you tell me. Come, finish that and walk me to my platform."

James downs the drink and leaves cash on the bar, then helps Madeleine into her coat. She's left her hair loose, and he settles it carefully over the fur collar. "I'll miss you," he murmurs into her ear.

She turns to smile at him, so familiar now. "I know."

*

He does have to go back to MI-6 once her train has gone, and zips Q's Peugeot in and out of traffic. Technically, it's James' car, and Q doesn't drive all that often. But when he does, he takes the Peugeot, so James thinks of it as Q's.

Most of MI-6 is still down in the bunkers, but M's office has windows. "007 to see you, Sir," Eve announces him, then lifts her immaculate eyebrows at James. "Bond. How was Iceland?"

"Quite cold. I don't suppose you could convince him to send me somewhere more temperate, next time?"

"You only wish I had that influence," she replies. "You can go in now."

"Bond," M says by way of greeting. His normally immaculate desk is stacked with files.

"Merger keeping you busy, sir?" James asks, unbuttoning his jacket and settling into the chair opposite M.

"You've no idea." M looks at the papers with unconcealed disgust. "But at least they're not shutting us down completely."

"Not everyone's losing their jobs, then."

"One of my demands was that everyone keep their jobs, or receive an equivalent transfer." M leans back in his chair. "Those files you got for us in Hvanneryi have proved to be invaluable in finding some of the remaining Spectre members, by the way. They're now awaiting trial."

"I hope not in the same facility as Oberhauser."

"Certainly not. Most of them aren't even being held in England."

"So we're staying global then?"

"It is the way of the future. The cooperation between agencies these last few weeks has been unprecedented, in my opinion. But it will take some time to dismantle the rest of Spectre, so MI-6 lives on for a while longer."

"I hope we've cut off the correct head." James checks one of his cufflinks, a fine gold and mother of pearl pair he bought in Brussels several years ago, then looks back at M. "What would you like me to do next, sir?"

"Well, I would have you take a look at Five's security and make sure they're up to Six's standards," M says, and James sincerely hopes that's a joke, "but the Americans have requested some help with a drug smuggling ring. Heroin."

James hasn't worked one of those in quite some time. Part of him is glad to have an assignment that isn't personal, and will likely be fairly mundane compared to his recent work. "Leiter asked for me."

M leans forward again and looks through one of the stacks of files. He hands over the envelope he finds. "The drugs appear to be originating in Bolivia. You'll be warmer than Iceland, at least. See Q for equipment."

"Sir." James stands up and buttons his suit jacket.

"And Bond," M says when James is nearly at the door, "I'll keep you informed about the clean-up."

"Thank you, sir."

He reads the file, then takes it to Q. "Still double-0 seven, then?" Q asks. He's half bent over a car and his hands and lower arms are streaked with grease. James thinks it's a lovely view.

"For now." He tosses Q a cloth to wipe his hands with, then hands him the file.

Q wanders to his desk, opening the envelope. James follows and settles one hip on the edge of the desk where there's room. Q skims the file, then says, "Well, at least you won't need a car, because we're not shipping one across the Atlantic. Are you going to be you, or can I convince you to adopt a cover identity this time?"

James lets his gaze linger slightly too long, and Q turns an appealing shade of pink. "You might be able to convince me."

Q rolls his eyes. "Honestly, Bond."

"It's nearly six, do you have dinner plans?"

"I was going to do something with that leftover roast chicken," Q says. In a quieter voice he asks, "Did Madeleine make the train all right?".

"She did."

Q slides the papers back into their envelope. "Will the usual Walther do?"

"You should come out to dinner with me before I leave for La Paz."

"You haven't taken me out to dinner since you were trying to convince me to go in on the house with you," Q murmurs, eyes on his computer screen.

"It's worked out so far, hasn't it?"

One of Q's workstations makes a powering-down sort of sound, although the one tied to the main screen on the wall stays up, running various trace programs and security feeds. He stands up and reaches for his jacket where it's hung on a hook. "Well, where are we going? Not somewhere I have to change clothes for, I hope."

"You're fine as you are," James replies with a smile.

Most of Q-branch has left for the day, but James waits by the lift as Q stops to talk the Parsons, who is unlucky enough to be on the late rotation this week. "..not to call me unless it's an emergency," he hears Q say. "The everything-is-on-fire sort."

James left the Bentley in the parking area, knowing Q had gotten a company car that morning - James must be more of an influence than he thought, if Q drives himself in even infrequently versus taking the strongly-suggested bulletproof company car.

Q merely scoffs when James voices this opinion. "Anyone tracking my movements would not be expecting me to drive in after I've used the car service for two weeks in a row."

"...true."

"And you know I modified the Peugeot myself."

"That's my boy," James murmurs, and Q scoffs again. James backs the Bentley down the row to take the far exit. Q looks unimpressed at this show of machine handling. James says, "You can drive her home after I get sauced."

"That's even more out of character than you asking me to marry you," Q replies, but there's a smile dancing at the corners of his mouth, so James thinks it was the right thing to say after all.

He takes Q to a small bistro he'd found one night while staying in the city, hungry nearly to the point of annoyance and not optimistic about finding any place worthwhile at the late hour. After some mostly aimless driving at a much slower speed than he would have liked, he spied a softly lit corner restaurant with golden yellow awnings and Charmaine's in script on the window.

"Mr. Bond, good evening," the valet says as James hands the keys over.

"Evening, Scotty. Is Louisa in the kitchen tonight?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent."

James goes around to open the passenger side door for Q, who gives him a knowing look and asks, "Learned everyone's names, have you?".

"Makes for a much more pleasant experience." He leads Q inside with a brief hand on the small of his back.

The familiar interior of the restaurant allows him a few degrees of relaxation, and the maitre'd seats them at James' preferred table, the one with the best lines of sight. There are only a handful of patrons, and none of them so much at glance at him and Q.

"Be honest, James, what's the occasion?" Q asks, after they've ordered cocktails and a starter. "Did I miss your birthday?"

"It's November, so no. And there's no occasion."

The look on Q's face says he clearly doesn't believe him but won't press the matter. "Did Madeleine get to the train all right? I felt terrible that I couldn't get away to say goodbye, but when M requests you at a meeting..."

"...you best go to the meeting."

"This merger is just." Q shakes his head as though there aren't words to describe it. He thanks the waiter as their drinks are set down.

"Thanks, Marcel," James says. "Have Louisa make up whatever she likes for the main, only no red meat for my guest."

"Certainly, sir."

James settles back in the relatively comfortable dining chair and looks at Q. "So what of the merger?"

"You should be glad you miss a lot of the office politics. I can't believe they're even wanting to continue with it, what with still trying to sort out everything Denbigh fucked up." Q looks briefly cross, then sighs. "I suppose it is what it is."

James smiles at that and touches his glass to Q's. "Cheers."

"Don't think for a second this has gotten you out of explaining why we're here."

"It's dinner, Q," James replies, and an expression he can't quite decipher flickers across Q's face. "Surely we've shared more than just that one meal together."

"When you eat what I cook at the house, yes, sometimes. But the last time you drove me somewhere nice after work it was to spring your ridiculous paper marriage and house purchase plan on me."

Softly, James asks, "Do you regret it?", even though he's not sure he wants to know the answer.

"No."

A small touch of relief; the barest wave. It's been a long time since James felt anything in a flood, although he thinks to himself that this would be an acceptable emotion to feel in such a manner, given the quiet, private smile on Q's face. The one he gets when he knows he's managed to surprise James even a small amount.

James smiles in return and reaches for the chilled artichoke.

*

He makes an attempt to grab Q after they take their coats off at the house, but the cats both saunter up, making plenty of pleading noises. "I'd best shut them up," Q says solemnly, but he presses a kiss to James' mouth even as he steps back out of James' grasp.

"I'll make you a drink, then."

"I don't want a martini," Q calls over his shoulder.

In the living room, James surveys what's left of the bar - three people being here more nights than not for the last two weeks has rather demolished it - then makes them each a gimlet. Q gives him a wry grin when James presses the glass into his hand as he walks in, and says, "Do you make anything that's not almost all straight liquor?".

"I can make a mean Bloody but all we've got for that is vodka," James replies, "so you might as well have a few of these."

Q steps forward, slipping his free hand beneath James's suit jacket. "Wouldn't you like to change?"

"Why bother?" He takes a swallow of his drink, then kisses Q warmly. The taste and feel of him are familiar, but kissing him in this room with all the lights on is not; almost every time they've slept together, it's been when James can't sleep and goes from his bedroom to Q's, and lets Q fuck him as close to oblivion as he can get.

He knows Q knows this, and sees just how aware of it Q is when they part. Q takes a measured sip from his glass, his eyes on James' face. "So it's like that?"

James makes himself shrug, hoping it looks careless. "If you'd like."

"I think this is more about what you would like," Q replies, clearly seeing right through him. "I hope you haven't forgotten that I actually do know you by now."

"How could I forget," James says, the words honest. He sets his almost empty glass on the polished surface of the bar. Then he takes off his suit jacket and tie, unfastens his cufflinks and leaves them on the bar next to the drink, and undoes most of the buttons of his shirt. Q is watching him with that same expression, mouth on the rim of his glass. The light in the room is falling in such a way across the lenses of his glasses that James can barely see his eyes.

One of the cats winds around his ankles, and James looks down to see Spic. "Would you please not watch as I'm undressing," he asks the cat, and sees the smile curve Q's mouth.

"I suppose it's a good thing our nearest neighbors are quite a ways away," Q says, as James unbuckles his belt. "You don't have to do this in the living room, James. There are bedrooms."

"I know." James nudges his shoes off.

"You'd like me to enjoy this?"

He chuckles. "Well, I was hoping for that, yes."

"It's not much of a show," Q replies, a much more straightforward smile on his face, and he sits down on the sofa. "But do continue. And then come here."

James removes what remains of his clothes and puts it all nearly over the arm of the chair - no reason to leave it a complete mess - and saunters over to Q, who smiles easily up at him.

"You are quite overdressed," James informs him.

"I know." Q makes no move to divest himself of his work sweater or slacks, but does set his glasses on the side table. "Dinner was lovely, thank you."

"You're welcome." James nudges Q's feet apart to stand between them, then lifts a brow. "Or should I say - my pleasure."

Q smiles again but otherwise doesn't move. James leans down to kiss him, barely touching Q's jaw with light fingers. He feels Q's hand settle gently on his hip, thumb stroking slowly back and forth.

"James," Q murmurs, still so close that their lips brush.

"Yes?"

"I know you enjoy pleasure for pleasure's sake, but do you..." He pauses, briefly, and James waits. "Allow yourself the time to really feel it?"

It's a fair question, James figures, and definitely something that's fair game for Q to ask. "Not very often," he says honestly.

The hand on his slides upward, stroking his side. "How about recently?"

James considers that for a moment, then tugs the collar of Q's sweater with one finger. "I have allowed myself the time, yes, more recently than in the past few years. More recently than I have since - since Vesper."

"Good." Q lifts his arms, and James pulls the sweater up and off, then carefully undoes the top few buttons of Q's shirt. "Really, though, you can't be convinced to take this upstairs? Either one of our beds is more suited for fucking than this sofa."

"Well, first I'd like to do this," James replies, unbuckling Q's belt, then undoing his slacks and sliding his hand into Q's briefs to touch his cock. "With the lights on."

Q's groan is quiet. His head tips back against the cushion of the sofa, and James can't help but lean up a bit to scrape his teeth gently over the skin of Q's neck. Then he frees Q's cock from the briefs and strokes him the rest of the way to hardness before applying his mouth.

"James," Q breathes, and James feels fingers pushing through his hair.

He goes slowly and carefully, even though he knows he's capable of more. He listens to the small sounds Q makes, most of them soft and uninhibited, noise to let James know he's on the right track. Q's cock is hot and heavy against his tongue, pulse throbbing through the vein, the salty taste of skin a thing that James has never shied away from. "James," Q sighs again, tugging at James' hair when James takes him deep. "I don't - oh - I could come like this and I don't want to. Not yet."

James pulls back. He strokes his palms over Q's thighs. "I like it when you fuck me," he admits, words quiet. "It's not always - not always because I just want to come so hard I pass out."

Q looks at him for a long moment. "I know. Let's go upstairs now."

James gets to his feet in one smooth motion, but can't help but lean down to kiss Q again. "Honestly," Q huffs against his mouth. "You don't need to seduce me."

"No?"

"No." Q looks at him again, then strokes the back of his hand over James' cheek. "You don't."

James turns his head to kiss Q's fingers. "And if I want to?"

"That's different than feeling like you need to," Q murmurs. "You know I'm not an assignment and I'm not your sleeping pill, not anymore. Can't I just be your husband?"

James meets his gaze, and Q doesn't turn away, just returns the look, steady and calm. "In that case," James says softly. "I'd like to hear about all the things you did with Madeleine while you fuck me. Possibly more than once."

"I think I'll enjoy that immensely," Q says, smiling. He stands up and steps out of his slacks and briefs, leaving them on the floor. Then he turns for the stairs, pulling James along with him.