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The Writing on the Wall

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The door was hidden under decades of grime and soot. It was tucked away in a tunnel that connected to MI6’s co-opted Underground station, but the tunnel had never been built up; the reinforced concrete floor didn’t even have rails.

“Do we open it or weld it shut?” Bond asked.

“Open it, of course,” Q answered. “Who knows what’s on the other side? I mean, have we learned nothing from that whole Richard the Third fiasco?”

“If you’re hoping to find another buried monarch, perhaps we could get some antiquities students to do this instead. I can almost guarantee they’d be dressed” — Bond looked down at his suit — “more appropriately.”

Q huffed derisively at Bond. “Don’t even pretend you don’t have spare clothes in your locker, 007,” he said. “You could have changed.”

“First, Quartermaster, I’m not about to go out in public in a tracksuit. And second, if I’d come down to your office in my swim trunks, would we have even made it this far?” he asked with a sly smirk before he turned to the filthy door.

Q opened his mouth to protest but quickly shut it. He knew that Bond preferred his small blue swim trunks for working out in the MI6 pool. If he’d shown up in Q’s office like that, Q had no doubt he would have found an excuse for them to leave early — or to padlock the door.

“So, yes. Let’s open this thing up,” Q finally said, his mutinous, shaky voice betraying his thoughts. He shone his torch back over the door, wondering if they would be able to open it themselves or if he’d need to retrieve a crowbar. “Think we’ll need tools for this?”

Bond gave a confident, cocky grin and crouched down, aiming his own torch at the lock. “I’ve got picks — unless you’d rather I just shot the lock out. It’s worked before.”

“And run the risk of a ricochet? I think not,” Q scoffed. “If it hits me, I’m certain it’ll kill me. You, on the other hand, will probably just walk it off,” he grumbled good-naturedly.

Bond laughed and pocketed his torch. “Light, please,” he said, taking a worn leather case out of his jacket pocket. Inside were lockpicks, old and bulky, definitely not MI6 issue.

Q pointed the torch at the lock and stepped back to give Bond room. “You know, I feel like I should be insulted that you trust some clunky set of picks over the state-of-the-art ones I designed. Lucky for you, the mental picture I now have of you as some high-class career criminal fully makes up for it.”

“Feel free to try and arrest me later tonight,” Bond invited, working the picks into the lock. “We can take turns with the handcuffs.”

Q’s sigh got lost under the small huff of laughter he couldn’t hold back, the torchlight shaking over the lock. “You really know how to woo a man, don’t you, James.”

“Is it working? If it’s not, I can always” — he paused as the lock clicked — “kidnap you.” Smirking, he rose and started tucking the picks back into the case.

“Which would be a perfect lead-in to my arresting you,” he answered with a smile he knew Bond couldn’t see. “Yes. Let’s do that.”

“It’s a date,” Bond promised. He took hold of the door’s handle and warned, “Stand back. There might be an army of rats, just waiting to swarm.”

Q shivered in disgust and took several steps back. He hated rats. The irony was never lost on him, having his office down in the tunnels.

Bond shot a smile over his shoulder. “I’m teasing, love. Besides, they’ll get me first. You’ll have a chance to run, if you want to abandon me.” He turned back to the door and pushed it open with a squeal of aged hinges.

Then he backed away, covering his nose and mouth with one now-dirty sleeve. Stale, dank air bled out through the doorway.

Q coughed and tried not to sneeze. He stepped cautiously to Bond’s side and aimed his light into the darkness. At first all he saw was deep red brick, much like the old bunkers two levels up, by the car park. Then he stepped forward, realising it was the same as the old bunkers, only this room was still outfitted with fluorescent tube lights, surely no longer functional, and huge tables meant for paper maps and open metal shelving—

“Not yet, Q,” Bond said, catching him by the shoulder as he started for the door. He tore his eyes away from the room and blinked at Bond, who smiled and warned, “Let me go first. If that ceiling’s going to come down, you’re more valuable than I am.”

“Yes, but —” Q started to protest, but cut himself off. Grudgingly, he knew Bond was right. Of course, that just meant he didn’t want either of them going in if there was a chance of structural collapse.

He looked back at the open doorway, letting the light flash across all the fascinating treasures that had been left behind and forgotten. God, he hoped the room was sound. Finally, he let out a resigned sigh and stepped aside again. “All right. Go ahead.”

Bond gave his shoulder a squeeze and went into the room. He genuinely did seem more concerned with safety than with the room’s contents. Only after searching the ceiling and walls for two excruciating minutes — not that Q counted — did he say, “It should be safe. Why the hell was this not on our maps?”

Excited, Q pushed eagerly through the small opening into the bunker. “If you recall, these tunnels are quite extensive. Unless we actually do want to hire an excavation team, I suspect it’ll take us years to uncover all the secrets down here.”

“Or we let you do all the exploration,” Bond said with a low, warm laugh. “As if you’d allow anyone else the thrill of discovery.”

“Not in my tunnels,” Q responded, smiling.

The room was about twice the size of Q’s office, though the low, arched ceiling made it feel smaller, almost claustrophobic. There were no files on the shelves, no maps on the tables, but just being here, Q was able to imagine the excitement and terror, officers strategizing how to hold off the Nazis, bombs going off far overhead... This must have been a top secret bunker, to be buried so deep under London.

If these walls could talk, he thought. He ran his hand along the closest table, watching decades worth of dust collect under his fingers. “Do you think Churchill himself used this bunker?” he wondered aloud.

“It’s very possible,” Bond answered just as softly, even reverently. Q heard a soft rattle of metal and turned to see Bond crouched down, reaching for the floor. “Look here. Bullets.”

“Really?” Q walked over, intrigued. Had there been a firefight here? He crouched down next to Bond and aimed his torch at the floor. There were four bullets, blunted by impact, no bigger than a five-pence piece.

He picked up one of the bullets, turning it over in his hand. “What do you think caused this? I mean, we work with certain metals down in the labs that could probably replicate this effect, but they aren’t common. What would something like that be doing down here?” He looked up and swung his torch around, half-expecting to see the cause of the damage somewhere in the room.

“No idea. They’re .45s, probably from a Colt 1911.” Bond gathered them with another rattle.  Without looking, Q reached over and dropped the other bullet into his hand. “Why don’t you keep them? There’s no blood, so they’re not even very macabre, as souvenirs go.”

“I might do that,” Q replied absently, still searching the room for... what, he had no idea. He pointed the torch higher up, hoping to find something mounted on one of the walls. As the light passed over Bond’s head, he caught sight of black lines painted against the red brick. He stopped moving, and the light landed on what looked like the word ‘All’.

“What is...” He trailed off and rose, sweeping the light over the wall. Under the soot and cobwebs, he could just make out: All my love, Peggy.

“Peggy?” Bond asked, moving to Q’s side. The combined light of their two torches uncovered still more words: I will always remember you. “No one’s been here for decades.”

Q shook his head. “I don’t think it’s graffiti. See?” He turned his torch, aiming the light at an angle to highlight the obvious brush strokes. “This was actually painted on by hand.”

“There’s something written above it, under the filth. Help me move this over,” Bond said, dropping his torch onto the nearest table.

Q set his torch down as well and walked around to the far end. “Where are we going with this?” he asked as he placed his hands underneath the heavy, reinforced wood.

“I’ll climb up and clean it off.” They lifted the table, struggling to move it even an inch before they had to set it down. Bond gave a quiet grunt before saying, “Or we can go back, get a proper ladder.”

“No, I think we can do this,” Q half-lied. He’d forgotten how sturdy everything had been ninety years ago. He gave a concerned glance at the few feet they had to cover before turning back to Bond. “I would rather not have to go back upstairs just yet. Anyone who runs into us will just want to join in.”

Bond grinned at him. “Our secret, then.”

Together, they managed to push and heave and drag the table under the writing, though not without quite a bit of creative swearing from both of them. After they set the table down for the last time, Bond looked at his palms and muttered something about splinters before he set them flat, prepared to boost himself up.

Q held up a hand to stop him. “James, I’ve got this.”

“Q,” Bond protested, putting out a hand. “If the table breaks —”

“I weigh far less than you do,” Q interrupted. He placed his foot on the table between his hands and pushed off, easily stepping up onto the surface of the table. He looked back down at Bond with an easy smile. “Hand me a torch, would you?”

With a little huff, Bond passed Q a torch and a handkerchief. “I won’t let you fall,” he said, unnecessarily protective.

“I know you won’t,” Q replied quietly as he took everything from Bond. He turned back to the wall and slowly brushed the dirt aside, careful not to scratch the paint.  Once he had the letters cleaned off, he stepped back to the other side of the table and held up his torch.

My dearest Steve,
I will always remember you. All my love, Peggy.

Q’s breath caught at the touching, brief love note painted onto the war-room wall. Without taking his eyes from the words, he whispered, “James, this is a... Who are these people?”

“Peggy... There was a sharpshooter back then. Peggy Carter. A bloody legend. She outshot every man who ever challenged her.”

Peggy Carter. Q had heard the name, most likely in one of his old history classes, but that was it. He couldn’t remember any of the details.

He turned and hopped down from the table, walking over to stand next to Bond. He looked back up at the first line and asked, “Do you know who this Steve person is?”

“No idea,” Bond said with a shrug. “Some bloke she fancied. I don’t know if she ever married.”

“That sounds so dismissive,” Q teased. He nudged Bond playfully in the ribs. “Did we maybe fancy her at some point in our lives?”

Bond dropped his torch onto the table and pulled Q into his arms. “We would’ve been more than happy to visit the shooting range with her. But I suppose we’ll have to settle for someone who prefers computers over firearms.”

Q settled back against Bond’s chest. “Hey, now. You’re forgetting who designs those firearms of yours. I may prefer computers, but it’s my weapons that keep you going in the field.”

“I was under the impression that it was the thought of coming home to you, but weapons are a good second choice.” Bond looked back up at the ceiling, arms tightening. “This is just a guess, but I suspect you don’t want to tell anyone about this room — not yet, at any rate. Hm?”

Q looked up at the words on the wall, suddenly wary of the idea that they would be painted over if MI6 decided to commandeer the room. “You asked earlier if we should open the door or seal it.” He looked around the room, seeing not dusty shelves and old tables but a backup power closet, an inventory cupboard, any of the dozens of things that Q Branch needed to build out its underground home.

There was history here, yes, but for seventy-plus years, the words painted high up on the wall remained along with the surviving remnants of war. Peggy Carter deserved more than to have her sentiment buried under whatever use MI6 would find for this room.

“Seal it.”

Bond took Q’s hand and pressed the bullets into his palm. “Hang onto these. You’ll need to smuggle them out, if you want to keep them,” he said, giving Q a quick grin. Then he took his mobile out of his pocket and started swiping at the screen.

“There’s no reception down here, James,” Q commented as he tucked the bullets safely into his trouser pocket. “Even with the Q Branch signal boost, we’re too far underground.”

“Who am I going to call? The only numbers I have in this thing are yours, Alec’s, and local restaurants,” Bond said, holding the mobile up, aimed at the writing. The bright flash made Q blink, and he turned away as Bond took two more pictures before he was apparently satisfied. “You have access to military records.”

“Yes...” Q glanced sidelong at Bond. “Why?”

“She was an officer. You can search her records for anyone named ‘Steve’.” Bond tucked the mobile into his pocket. “If he’s still alive...”

Q couldn’t hide a look of surprise at the sentiment. Bond had definitely softened a bit since they’d started dating, but he rarely showed any sort of respect or concern for people who weren’t Q and Alec.

With an affectionate smile, Q turned to wrap his arms around Bond’s waist. “Let me get this straight.” He leaned in for a quick, chaste kiss. “Are you saying you want to track him down for her?”

“This ‘Steve’ has to be at least ninety, so get searching. I’ll lock the door, and we can brick it up later.”

“All right.” Q let go of Bond and turned, giving one last look at Peggy’s words up on the wall. As he started for the door he said, “I hope this Steve is still alive. No one should have something like that go unanswered.”

“He probably knew — or knows,” Bond corrected, following Q. “The sentiment that would prompt an officer to paint that isn’t the sort of thing that would go unnoticed, no matter how oblivious the bloke in question.”

Q stopped at the doorway and gave Bond a tentative half-smile. “If I left something for you at MI6, do you think would you find it?”

Bond touched his fingertips to Q’s face and leaned in for a kiss. “Of course I would. But after I stop by the firing range.”

Q blinked at Bond, nonplussed. “The firing range?”

“First, I have to beat Carter’s scores.”