Actions

Work Header

something has scarcely begun

Work Text:


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

This was a favored saying of Mrs. Moneypenny’s, as it surely was for all mothers with beautiful daughters.

Q had always thought that a single man in possession of a good fortune would hardly be in want of anything , let alone a wife. But then again, Q had never paid much attention to such matters.

“Quentin, darling, come out from that little corner of yours and have some breakfast,” Mrs. Moneypenny called from across the yard. She laughed fondly when Q poked his head out of the entrance to his workshop, his dark hair in even more disarray than usual, bifocals askew.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he called, hurrying back to put his tools and the pieces he’d been tinkering with away.

Q scurried from his makeshift workshop in the corner of the Moneypennys’ little barn (he shared the space with their two horses, Pierce and Roger, as well as the old cow, Judi) into the house, pausing at the well to wash some of the grease and soot off his hands. He all but crashed into Eve, who took one look at his hair and rolled her eyes. She reached up to tame it somewhat, shaking her head.

“Honestly, Q, you’d think you were trying to look like a scruffy ragamuffin,” she said with a smirk.

“It does what it will, Eve,” Q responded with a slight flush. Ragamuffin, indeed.

“Is that Q? Tell him to sit next to me, I want to ask him about the metal quill he’s making,” R yelled from the dining room, laughing when Q, as always, responded that it’s not a quill, Rosalind, it’s something new.

In the end, Q sat just next to Mr. Moneypenny at the head of the table, with R on his right acting for all the world as if she was the over eager younger sibling, rather than he.

“R, it’s not really all that interesting. I just grew tired of constantly dipping my quill in the inkwell,” Q told her after the tenth question, mildly exasperated.

“Oh, Quentin, must you call her by that silly nickname?” Mrs. Moneypenny asked, although by now the complaint was more out of habit than a real expectation for things to change.

Eve was the one who responded. “Come now, Mother, there’s nothing wrong with an affectionate pet name between siblings.”

The older woman simply tutted, turning back to her scone. “It was perfectly fine when you and Quentin were small and simply couldn’t pronounce Rosalind’s name, but for goodness sake, you’re both fully grown!”

R turned to Mr. Moneypenny. “What do you think, Father? Are we being immature?”

Mr. Moneypenny gave her a blank look from over his newspaper. “To be frank, love, I don’t give a whit one way or the other.”

The children all laughed at this, while his wife scowled. She quickly moved on from the subject of nicknames, and Q could tell that she was eager to tell them some new gossip, no doubt heard from the postman.

“Have you heard, children? Vauxhall is let at last!”

“That huge estate by the river?” R asked, curious. “Why, no one’s lived there for years. Who’s this new person, then?”

This, clearly, was what Mrs. Moneypenny had been waiting for. “A Commander James Bond, of the Royal Navy. It would seem that he’s decided to spend his retirement in the countryside. And what’s more, he’s single .”

Both Eve and R groaned at the glint in their mother’s eye, and Q found himself grateful that he was a boy, and therefore not susceptible to this particular matchmaking endeavor. Last year she’d tried to arrange a match between himself and Miss Madeleine Swann of L’Americain Manor, and it had been disastrous. Not because the two hadn’t gotten along; rather the opposite, in fact, as Miss Swann was brilliant and sharp, and they’d had many a long discussion regarding philosophy and science. No, rather it was because the two young people hadn’t felt any sort of romantic inclination toward the other. Q was dreading the day that Mrs. Moneypenny found a new matchmaking project for her young ward.

“Mother, tell me you haven’t already hatched some scheme for us to be married off to this rich stranger,” Eve pleaded, sighing in defeat when her mother simply smiled mischievously.

“Is he going to be at the assembly tomorrow?” R asked, ever the friendly one. Q suspected she was more interested in hearing stories of Bond’s hypothetical adventures in the navy than any sort of hypothetical marriage.

“I’m sure he will,” Mrs. Moneypenny replied. “He wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to meet his neighbors.”

Q thought, privately, that ‘neighbors’ was a bit of an exaggeration. Vauxhall was a grand, enormous estate, and Mr. Bond’s nearest ‘neighbor’ would be at least four miles away in any direction.

“Well, anyone that rich has to be a horrible snob, don’t you think?” Eve asked.

“And old , if he’s already retired,” R chimed in.

Q shrugged. “I suppose we’ll find out.”

“I found him rather charming when I went to visit yesterday,” Mr. Moneypenny commented absentmindedly, chuckling when every person’s head whipped toward him in surprise.

“What - when - you - Mr. Moneypenny! ” Mrs. Moneypenny sputtered, obviously put out at her husband’s secrecy.

“Well, it would have been rude not to introduce myself, don’t you think?”

 

******

 

There were few things in the world Q loathed as much as balls, he thought to himself as he watched his sisters prepare and primp from his perch on the edge of R’s bed. He didn’t quite understand why they felt the need to put so much effort into their appearances, as Q really did think that the two were just as stunning in an apron with their hair loose as they were all done up in a ballgown. When he voiced this thought, Eve pinched his cheek and called him darling, which was hardly the point.

He helped R tie a pink ribbon at the back of her dress, and then Eve pin back her wild curls, all while they chatted about this and that: Mrs. Harris is expecting again, we must be sure to congratulate her; what’s the name of that man who opened the printer’s in town?; do you think Mr. Bond will be handsome?

Q took a step back, admiring his handiwork, before declaring that his sisters were simply the two most lovely creatures in all of England. He grinned as they beamed, but felt his smile fade rather rapidly when R grabbed his hand and dragged him into his own bedroom.

“What’s all this then?”

“It’s our turn to dress you up,” Eve said with a smirk.

“What? No. I’m not going!” Q protested, although it took perhaps fifteen seconds for him to give up. He knew he was fighting a losing battle: there was nothing one could do in the face of the Moneypenny sisters when they had their minds made up.

“The blue coat, I think, with the navy vest,” R commented, throwing Q’s own clothes at his head.

“And the black cravat,” Eve called, rummaging through Q’s drawers as if they were her own.

He’d thought he was free once he’d donned their choice of outfit, but instead he found himself sitting on his bed while R tried to comb his messy hair and Eve studied the three pairs of eyeglasses he owned.

“I think he should wear those odd ones he made with the dark frames, don’t you?”

Q bristled. “They are not odd , they’re practical. I’ve had to replace the lenses on the wire ones half a dozen times! The black frames are thick - ”

“ - ‘and therefore provide more protection for the lenses’, yes we know, dearest,” R finished. “I think that’s an excellent choice, Eve.”

“Your mother says they make me look eccentric,” Q pointed out as Eve dropped the bifocals on his nose.

“You are eccentric. That doesn’t mean you don’t look nice in those glasses.”

Q found himself resenting the two girls an hour later when he was standing in the corner of the large ballroom with Mr. Moneypenny. The assembly was just as loud and crowded as he’d feared, and he already longed for the familiar warmth of his bed.

God, but he hated balls.

Mr. Moneypenny liked them about as much as Q, but he was infinitely more sociable and respectable than his young companion. For example: he had never accidentally set himself on fire.

Three times.

Eve wandered into their little corner, her yellow dress all but glowing against her dark skin. Q was particularly proud of the way he’d woven a ribbon of the same color through her curls, not that he’d admit to enjoying that sort of thing. It was a younger brother’s duty, after all, to whinge and gripe at his older sisters.

“Mr. Bond and his party have arrived, so try your best to avoid Mother if you don’t want to be dragged across the room.”

No sooner had she finished speaking than the double doors opened and three men walked in. R sidled up, peering around Q to get a better look without seeming too eager. “Which one is Mr. Bond, Father?” she whispered curiously.

“The blonde man on the right,” Mr. Moneypenny murmured in response, going on to educate his children on the rest of the party.

Well, he was definitely older than Q and his sisters, but he was by no means old. Q wondered how a man no older than forty had already come to be retired in the country.

Mr. Moneypenny continued. “The one in the middle is Lt. Commander Alec Trevelyan. He’s nearly as wealthy as Mr. Bond, or so I’ve heard. The man on the left is Mr. William Tanner, who I believe is a tailor, and great friend of Bond and Trevelyan’s. Remarkably affable man. I think you’d like him, Q.”

The three men made their way across the room, nodding politely to whomever passed through their line of sight. Mr. Bond’s gaze caught Q’s, and he felt his eyes widen. Mr. Bond had the most astonishing blue eyes; they positively lit up the older man’s handsome face. So entranced was Q by the man’s icy gaze that it took a hard elbow to the side from Eve as she curtsied to remind him to bow politely in greeting. He could swear Bond chuckled at the sight, and he felt his face heat.

The activities commenced again as the party made its way to the hosts, and Q found himself pulled into a dance with a very pregnant Mrs. Harris. He supposed he could be stuck with an eligible young lady, so it could have been worse. Besides, Mrs. Harris was a sweet woman, who only laughed when Q stepped on her toes.

He begged off after two dances, giving the pregnant woman a kiss on the cheek before retreating back to his corner.

Q sighed inwardly when he finally made it back to his hideaway only to find it occupied by one of the newcomers, Mr. Tanner. He went to leave, but paused when the man addressed him.

“Have I taken your hiding spot?” Mr. Tanner asked. “Don’t let me keep you away: I hate these things nearly as much as you seem to.”

Q walked over, leaning against the wall next to the older man. “What makes you think I don’t like balls?”

Mr. Tanner raised a brow. “You all but sprinted over here when the music ended.”

“Perhaps I’m just a terrible dancer and I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

“Or maybe you hate large crowds and noisy gatherings as much as I do.”

Q smiled, chagrined. “I guess I should be thankful that I’ve been caught out by a fellow recluse.”

Mr. Tanner laughed. He offered his hand. “Bill Tanner, at your service.”

“Quentin Boothroyd, at yours. But please, call me Q. Mr. Boothroyd was my father.”

“Q, eh? I suppose I’ve heard stranger nicknames,” Tanner responded with a friendly chuckle. “Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but you simply must tell me about those odd bifocals you’re wearing.”

And so Q found himself discussing the practical uses of his thicker frames, and then the complex engineering details of Tanner’s sewing machines. He found himself disappointed when Mrs. Moneypenny came over to drag him to Mr. Bond and Mr. Trevelyan. At least Tanner offered to introduce him, so the conversation wouldn’t end just yet.

Q discovered that Mr. Bond’s blue eyes were even more electric up close, and that Mr. Moneypenny hadn’t exaggerated the man’s charm. Even Eve, the most no-nonsense woman Q had ever known, flushed a little when Mr. Bond bowed low and kissed her hand oh so delicately.

“Why, Mr. Moneypenny. You failed to tell me how enchanting your daughters were when we met this past Wednesday,” he said with a wink. “My ladies, you must have all the suitors in the county simply begging for your hands.”

R giggled, blushing prettily. Conversely, Q rolled his eyes, although he felt a tad guilty when Tanner snorted in amusement at him and choked on his drink.

It was only after the man had dazzled his sisters and their mother, and after Tanner and Mr. Trevelyan walked away to the dance floor with Eve and R, respectively, that Q found himself alone with Mr. Bond, unintroduced.

Bollocks.

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure. Bond, James Bond.”

Q raised a brow at the odd introduction, but took the man’s hand nonetheless. “Quentin Boothroyd, at your service.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Quentin Boothroyd, but you don’t seem to like me very much,” Bond remarked with a smirk, looking more amused than offended.

Q startled at the forward comment. “Oh, uh - No, of course not, sir. I hardly know you.” He hesitated.

The smirk widened. “But…?”

How had Bond backed him so thoroughly into a conversational corner? “ But , I’m always mistrustful of men who so cavalierly flirt with my sisters.”

“Sisters?”

“The Miss Moneypennys, sir.”

He almost laughed as Bond’s eyebrows lifted, clearly torn between asking how it was that a pale scrawny thing like Q was related to this family of handsome dark-skinned beauties or keeping a polite silence.

What Bond settled on, was: “What makes you think it was cavalier?”

Q gave the man what he hoped was his most polite-looking unimpressed stare. “Perhaps the way you introduced yourself to the three Fields sisters not two minutes before them.”

“You’re an… interesting fellow, Mr. Boothroyd,” Bond said with a chuckle, and Q had the horrible feeling that he was being laughed at .

“If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Bond.” Not waiting for a reply, Q made a hasty retreat, this time outside to the brisk open air of the courtyard, leaning against the wall. Meeting new people was simply exhausting, Q found, especially ones as confusing as Mr. Bond.

The music stopped, and Q waited with bated breath to see whether his little sanctuary would be invaded. Thankfully not, it seemed, when the music started up again and no one else opened the doors next to him. However, Q did hear a pair of voices come closer to the open window just to his right.

“...great fun, don’t you think, Bond?”

“Plenty of beautiful girls, to be sure.”

It was Bond and his friend Mr. Trevelyan, probably standing near the window to converse with more privacy.

“And what about those Moneypennys, eh? I swear I’ve never seen a pair so lovely. And Tanner seems to like their brother, as well.”

“The Boothroyd kid? He’s so…” Bond trailed off. Q definitely didn’t like where this was going.

“Tanner says he’s brilliant.”

“He’s so peculiar. Precocious as well. And he’s far too proud for someone his age. If anything, his sisters are less appealing by association alone.”

And Q found that he didn’t want to hear anymore of what Bond thought of him. He walked quickly through the courtyard doors, not sparing a backwards glance at the two men.

He found Mr. Moneypenny and joined him immediately, ignoring the older man’s curious look. Q tried his best to listen to the conversation at the table where they were sat, but his mind kept wandering back to what Bond said. He’d always been strange, he knew, and perhaps he was a bit brash at times, but he’d never considered how this might affect his sisters’ standing. Eve was two and twenty, Rosalind only a year behind her, and they were two of the most beautiful and agreeable ladies in the county. By now one would think they’d both have had several offers, but none had been made. Was this Q’s fault? Did eligible men turn away from his sisters to avoid being associated with the queer, bespectacled Boothroyd boy?

Q was so caught up in his thoughts that he hardly noticed Mr. Moneypenny tugging on his sleeve, telling him it was time to leave.

“Q, would you mind horribly going to fetch the carriage? I’ll get the girls.”

He nodded, eager to leave this party and that disparaging man far behind. Of course, he made it all of ten feet before he was crashing into a rather firm chest. He glanced up, and of course it was Bond, once again looking like he might start laughing at Q.

What a smug, pompous, arrogant -

“My apologies, Mr. Bond,” he said tightly. “I was being careless. It won’t happen again.”

“Careful now, Quentin Boothroyd. I’d think you were trying be rid of me, barreling into me like that,” Bond said, that same self-satisfied look on his face.

“Not at all, Mr. Bond. I’ve found that the best way to keep unpleasant people away is to simply be myself. On occasion, being precocious and peculiar has its advantages.”

With that, Q turned and walked away, but not before he saw that damned smirk fall from James Bond’s horribly handsome face.

 

******

 

For all that Q loathed balls, and for all that he had left the assembly that night with perhaps even more hatred for the blasted affairs, there were few things he loved more than to see his sisters happy. And happy they were.

What Q lacked in social aptitude and charm the girls had in spades, and they’d danced nearly the whole evening, with barely enough time to stop for a drink. Such was the burden of beautiful people, Q supposed: they were always in demand.

So, though Q was still nursing his wounded pride, he smiled and humored his sisters as they regaled him with stories from their night.

It was while Q was helping R remove the pins from her hair that he found himself faced with a conundrum.

“... and R was positively mooning over Mr. Trevelyan, weren’t you?”

R threw a pillow at their older sister, blushing furiously, but she did not deny it.

“I can hardly blame you,” Eve said, enjoying R’s embarrassment in the way that only sisters could. “He’s quite attractive, even with that scar on his face, and very amiable. Don’t you think so, Q?”

Eve and R would do this, sometimes: ask Q for his opinion of a handsome man. He assumed they just wanted to know what their brother thought of a potential suitor, but there was always a look in their eyes when they asked, as if they knew something he didn’t.

“I suppose he was handsome enough.”

R’s hair finally fell loose from its confines, and she whipped around to face Q, her eyes alight. “He said that he was glad you and Mr. Tanner got along so splendidly, because it gave him even more of an excuse to invite the three of us to dine at Vauxhall with them!”

And here was the conundrum. He’d had every intention of confiding in his sisters, of telling them what Bond had said. But if he were to tell them, they’d surely be as angry as he, and then the girls would be certain to refuse Trevelyan’s invitation when it arrived; so protective were they of their brother. But R was so happy, Q thought, and so very excited to spend more time with this handsome, interesting man.

Who was Q to take away that happiness?

So, when Eve asked why it was that he’d been so withdrawn during the journey home, he told her some white lie about being tired, before excusing himself and going to his own room.

Of course, Eve appeared not twenty minutes later, while Q was pulling on his night shirt.

“R was too caught up in her excitement to notice, but something’s not right with you.” She climbed onto his bed, sitting cross legged in her nightgown and patting the mattress next to her. “Come on, out with it.”

He sighed, sitting on his bed and pulling his knees up under his chin, crossing his arms over top. Eve had never been the most patient of people, and he allowed himself a small smile as she fidgeted, waiting for him for find the right words. Finally, he turned his head to face his sister, resting his cheek against his elbows.

“Do you think I’m the reason you two haven’t had more suitors?”

It was this, more than anything else Bond had said, that had been troubling Q. To be called strange was par for the course (people had called him things much harsher than ‘peculiar’ in the past), and to be called arrogant was admittedly painful, but the thought that his odd nature might be preventing his sisters from finding happiness was more than he could bear.

“What on earth do you mean?”

“I know I’m….different,” he started to say, and when Eve opened her mouth he hastened to add: “And I know you love me for it, and that you accept me for who I am, et cetera, et cetera…But do you ever think that maybe - maybe there are men that might have sought a connection with you or R, who thought better of it once they realized I’d be involved? Who didn’t want to be associated with me, so avoided a match with you?”

Eve was staring at him as if he had ten heads. “What makes you think that?” When Q only shrugged, she simply scooted over, until they were pressed up against each other and she could wrap her arm around him. “Even if that were true - which it isn’t, it’s preposterous -  neither of us would want someone who didn’t appreciate you. At any rate, R’s only just met someone who really caught her eye, and I’m not sure I even want to get married.”

At this, Q lifted his head off his crossed arms, shocked. “Truly?”

“Men are nice, I suppose, but I don’t want to spend my life only as somebody’s wife. Maybe I’ll be a seamstress, or a governess, or...I don’t know, a great intellectual like Descartes. But being just a housewife would be so boring.”

Q went to respond, if only to tell her that he supported whatever path she chose, but Eve shushed him.

“The point is, Rosalind and I are capable of making our own decisions, and any man who doesn’t respect or like you doesn’t deserve to be a part of our family.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead before getting up to go back to her own room.

“Eve,” Q called as she went to open the door. “Do your parents know about your plans? About what you want?”

“R does.” She said this with a small smile, as if that was enough for now. “And they’re your parents too, you know. I wish you’d remember that.”

 

*****

 

Q’s sour mood was lifted considerably the next morning when R suggested that the three of them ought to go to town and visit the bookstore. He suspected this scheme was mostly for his sake, as nothing Q loved so well as a new book. Still, he was more than happy to clamber into the front seat of their modest carriage and drive them the ten or so miles toward town.

They parked the carriage at the local stables, and soon enough Q was being led by the hand not to the bookstore, but the tea shop, and then the florist, and then into Tanner’s recently opened tailor shop; he’d been hoodwinked, ployed with the offer of a new scientific text and left with an armful of marigolds instead.

Tanner welcomed them warmly when they entered, directing the girls toward his newest selection of ribbons and bonnets before engaging Q in conversation about the new hot air balloon he’d read about in the papers. Tanner’s concern was how safe the things were, while Q was interested in the engineering. He found himself enjoying their visit, the four of them laughing gaily as R placed one of the more ostentatious bonnets on Q’s head, and then Tanner’s.

Shortly thereafter, because Q simply couldn’t seem to catch a moment’s peace, the bell above the door chimed and in walked Bond and Mr. Trevelyan. He was glad, at least, that Bond looked about as happy to see him as he was to see Bond, who stiffened at the sight of Q standing next to Tanner.

“Why, if it isn’t the Miss Moneypennys! What a delightful surprise.” Trevelyan seemed unaware of the sudden tension between his companion and Q, turning his attention to Eve and R almost immediately. “And to think, just this morning Bond and I were discussing what splendid dancers the two of you are.”

R giggled at the other man’s words, and though Eve was smiling, years of practice had Q noticing that she was trying not to roll her eyes at the blatant flirting. At least it seemed Mr. Trevelyan was genuinely pleased to see R, frivolities aside.

He turned to Q, then. “And you must be Mr. Boothroyd. Miss Rosalind spoke most fondly of you last night.”

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Trevelyan,” Q replied, although he privately thought that he’d gladly forsake the man’s acquaintance if it meant that he didn’t have to see his arrogant friend.

Bond, who had been exchanging the usual pleasantries with the girls, turned to Tanner. “Say, Tanner, have you sorted out that blasted machine yet?”

At this, Q perked up, turning to the tailor questioningly.

Tanner laughed at Q’s excited expression, gesturing for the younger man to follow him to the backroom, where a rather large sewing machine sat untouched. “It’s an old machine, you see. I can’t quite pinpoint what the problem is, so I’ve been doing my alterations and construction by hand these past few weeks.”

Q walked over to the device, opening the top and peering in. Immediately, he saw the problem: one of the gears was slightly off-kilter, and could not interlock with its counterparts. “I could fix this, if you like, although I don’t have any of my tools with me.”

The look of blatant relief that passed over Tanner’s face was almost comical. “Really? That would be a tremendous help. I’ve grown far too dependant on these contraptions.”

Q looked back at the machine consideringly. “You know, I could probably get it done now, if you wouldn’t mind parting with one of your quills.”

And so Q found himself using the metal end of a particularly old quill as a makeshift screwdriver. He pressed the gear back into place carefully, cautious not to break the metal tip off his improvised tool and lose it in the machine. When he was done, he stepped back to let Tanner test it out, beaming with pride when it started working immediately, right as rain.

“I must admit, Mr. Boothroyd, I am impressed,” came a voice from the doorway. Q hadn’t even noticed Bond come into the room, having been so focused on his task.

He gave Bond a considering look. “Were you expecting not to be?”

Bond’s smirk dropped, and Q felt one of his own spread across his face in response as the man fumbled for something to say, wrongfooted.

“Did our Mr. Boothroyd fix it already? Why, it’s been less than five minutes!” Trevelyan exclaimed, his voice carrying over from the front room.

Q addressed the other man as he walked back toward the front and his sisters. “Please, Mr. Trevelyan, call me Q. Everyone does.”

“You didn’t ask me to call you that,” Bond commented, apparently having found his voice again.

Q raised a brow. “Well, Mr. Bond, I rather think you’ll have to earn that privilege.”

Tanner and Trevelyan practically guffawed at this, while Eve swatted him for his cheek.

Eve cut in before Bond could respond. “We really must be going. We did promise Q here that we’d visit the bookstore, and I imagine he’s quite sick of ribbons and flowers and tea.”

Trevelyan walked forward and took R’s hand, kissing it gently. “I eagerly await the day our paths cross again, Miss Rosalind Moneypenny.”

Alright, Q could admit that was rather charming. He now understood why R had been swooning the night before.

In the wake of this sudden encounter with Bond, Q found that he didn’t much fancy going to the bookstore anymore. He’d much rather go home and bury himself in his workshop, tinkering away until all thoughts of that dratted man faded from his mind.

And so the trio made their way home, and he did just that.

 

*******

 

Not two days later a letter addressed to R arrived over breakfast, inviting the three to dine at Vauxhall that evening. Q scanned it from over her shoulder and - oh, thank heavens, Tanner was going to be there; he’d had visions of being an uncomfortable chaperone to Bond and Trevelyan’s simultaneous courting attempts.

After once again being dressed like a doll by his sisters, they climbed into their carriage and made their way toward the estate on the river. Q didn’t quite understand why he had to wear the striped blue vest with the black coat, but then again he didn’t understand most things his sisters did. At least he had a good enough eye to tell the girls with certainty that yes, they both looked ravishing in their green dresses.

The three men met their carriage at the front of the house which -

Good lord, Q had never seen such a place. Towering pillars and hundreds of windows, decorative statues and fountains littered across the grounds; the house was more suited to a king than anything else.

Tanner helped Eve down, and Trevelyan R, and just as Q prepared to jump down from his seat in the driver’s chair Bond offered him his hand. Q hesitated, trying to think of a way to decline the offer without offending his host. When no solution came to mind, he simply sighed and took Bond’s hand, purposely avoiding looking into those startlingly blue eyes. He would not be surprised if Bond had in the past found himself forgiven for all manner of digressions after one took a single look in those mesmerizing eyes. He had no intention of falling victim himself.

Q went to follow his sisters and their companions, but Bond tightened his grip, holding back to allow some distance between themselves and the others.

He turned questioningly toward the other man. “Sir?”

“I had hoped to speak with you before the evening’s start,” Bond explained. “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, so to speak. You have my most sincere apologies, if I offended you this past Friday at the assembly.”

Q offered his own hesitant smile in response. He wasn’t sure how genuine this apology was; it would certainly make Bond’s possible courting of Eve easier if he didn’t have to deal with an irritable brother. He decided to remain cautiously optimistic, however. For now.

“I suppose when one has obscene amounts of wealth, one doesn’t need to worry so much about what they say, or indeed to whom they say it,” he responded. He stopped then, furrowing his brow. “That wasn’t meant to sound as rude as it did.”

Bond let out a chuckle at Q’s hasty addendum. “You are ceaselessly entertaining, Mr. Boothroyd.”

It was only then that Q realized they were still holding hands, and he let go hastily, adjusting his glasses as he often did when he grew nervous. Bond made no comment, instead leading him into the grand house.

It was, if anything, more opulent on the inside, with magnificent murals painted on the ceilings, and exquisite statues and artwork lining the walls. There seemed to be marble pillars every ten feet, giving the house a rather Grecian atmosphere.

“This is… like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Q remarked wondrously, so caught up in the house’s splendor that he didn’t bother to look at the man to whom he was speaking.

“It’s a bit much, isn’t it?” Bond answered with a laugh. “Most of the paintings and sculptures were left to me by my late aunt, Lady Olivia Mansfield. Our family estate in Scotland held too many memories, you see, so when I retired from the Navy I set about putting the fortune she left me to use. I’ve sold a great deal of her collections to museums and the like, but my housekeeper insisted that I let her spruce the place up a bit.”

Q hummed thoughtfully, still admiring the architecture. He turned to Bond questioningly. “You don’t sound like you’re from Scotland,” he commented.

“That would be the Navy’s doing. With so much travel, we all tend to lose our respective accents. Trevelyan’s from up North, not that you’d ever be able to tell.”

Q went to respond, but was cut off by the sound of laughter from an adjoining room. They found the rest of their party lounging in a sitting room, the two Moneypennys on one couch while Tanner and Trevelyan sat in nearby chairs on either side of them.

“Whatever Trevelyan has said, it’s all lies and slander,” Bond joked as he sat on the settee across from the sisters. Q glanced around the room and realized that he’d have to join him on the rather small sofa. He perched as far from Bond as he could without falling off, ignoring the amused look he received from the other man for his efforts.

Soon enough the six of them were caught up in conversation over literature, R and Trevelyan bonding over a shared love of Russian literature while Eve and Tanner argued over their favorite Shakespeare works.

Bond and Q very quickly found themselves embroiled in a heated debate over philosophy. It was only natural for them to have differing opinions, Q thought, as Bond seemed to exist purely to aggravate him.

“....if you consider Kant’s - ”

Bond cut him off. “Of course you prefer Kant. You would be a layabout idealist, given how young you are.”

Q huffed in annoyance. “Age, Mr. Bond, is no guarantee of efficiency.”

“And youth is no guarantee of innovation,” Bond replied with a smirk.

Q allowed himself a small chuckle at the quip. “And to whose school of thought do you prescribe?”

“I think some of Hobbes’s thoughts are rather insightful. A practical man, he was.”

Now it was Q’s turn to be unimpressed. “Practical? More like defeatist. The man was more doom and gloom than theories, if you ask me.”

“Ah yes, but did I ask?” Bond inquired teasingly.

A throat cleared on Q’s right, and he realized suddenly that the rest of the room had fallen into silence, waiting for the pair to emerge from their discussion.

“If you two are quite finished, I believe dinner is ready,” Trevelyan remarked with an amused look, nodding to the waiting attendant.

Q glanced over at Bond, only to find those blue eyes much closer than before. He’d been so caught up in their argument that he’d failed to notice himself scooting closer and closer to the other man. Their thighs were pressed together, and Q could count the faded freckles on Bond’s face, if he wanted.

Not that he did want to.

It was merely an observation.

Q ended up sitting between his sisters, with Tanner across from him between Bond and Trevelyan.

The food was exquisite, the conversation easy, and Q found himself laughing more often than not. It was as the main course was being taken away that things started to get a bit unsteady.

“Now, ladies, I simply must know,” Trevelyan started, “How is it that two charming, lovely women like yourselves haven’t already been paired off with some count or duke? Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”

“You know, Q asked the same thing the other night. He seemed to think his eccentric nature was to blame,” Eve replied, looking at her brother fondly. “Where he got that idea, I simply couldn’t say.”

Trevelyan paused, his fork halfway to his mouth, while Bond froze in his seat, a guilty look on his handsome face.

“Where indeed,” was all Trevelyan said in reply, smiling politely at Q.

“Well, any man who’d be so quick to write off Mr. Boothroyd as a mere oddity would be a great fool,” Bond said, looking at Q earnestly.

Q couldn’t help his small smile, or the pleased flush that spread across his cheeks at Bond’s words. Despite the man’s tendency to vex and fluster Q, he at least genuinely seemed to want to make amends.

Eve glanced between her brother and Mr. Bond curiously. “Yes… that’s just what I said.”

It was late evening by the time they made their way back to the carriage. Q, for possibly the first time in his life, was almost disappointed that a social gathering had come to an end.

“I wonder,” Bond said as he and Trevelyan escorted the trio, “If you would give us the honor of calling on you Monday next? For a picnic, perhaps?”

R beamed. “Of course! I know just the place. Shall we say eleven o’clock?”

Eve elected to sit up front with Q, shooting him thoughtful glances as he worked the reigns. Eventually, he gave up on ignoring her.

“What is it, sister mine?” he asked with a put upon sigh.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw you so animated outside your little workshop. Dare I say you were lively , Q.”

“Yes, well. I suppose they’re adequate company after all.”

Eve gave him a knowing look, though what it was she thought she knew Q could not say. “And Mr. Bond?”

Q mulled it over. “An infuriating man, to be sure, but I suppose there are worse people who could be courting you.”

“And what makes you so sure it’s me he’s courting?” Eve asked as they pulled up to the Moneypenny estate, accepting Q’s hand as he helped her down.

“I hardly think he’s cruel enough to chase after a girl who his friend so clearly favors. Anyone who would willingly listen to R ramble about Alexander Sumarokov must already be halfway in love,” Q said with a laugh. “Mark my words, soon enough you’ll be the sister of a Mrs. Rosalind Trevelyan.”

 

******

 

Monday came sooner than Q expected. So soon, in fact, that he didn’t even realize what day it was when he heard a knock at the open arch of the workshop n é e barn. He’d been tinkering since early that morning, and had completely lost track of the time.

Without even looking up from his table, he called over to the visitor. “Eve, if this is you trying to get me to take a break, I’ll only be tempted away by pastries.”

“And here I thought my company alone would be enough,” came the reply, but it was not from Q’s sister. He looked up sharply, only to find Bond standing in the doorway, his crisp clothes and fine boots a sharp contrast to the general muck and clutter of the barn.

“Mr. Bond? What brings you here?”

Bond quirked a brow. “Miss Rosalind sent me. We did say eleven o’clock.”

“Is it Monday already?” Q asked, startled. He blushed when Bond laughed at his surprise, although the amusement was, he admitted, warranted.

He started to get up and leave, but...he was almost finished….

“I do beg your pardon, Mr. Bond, this will only take a moment,” Q said, turning back to his bench and making some final adjustments.

“What are you working on?” Bond asked, and Q just about leapt out of his skin. The man had moved behind him to get a closer look, his breath ghosting across the back of Q’s neck. He wondered as he tried to calm his racing heart if Bond had learned to move so stealthily in the Navy.

“Oh it’s - it’s nothing really. Sort of a replenishing quill,” Q responded hesitantly. He very rarely talked about his little inventions with anyone outside his family, and he found himself rather worried that he would be judged.

“Show me,” Bond said. Normally Q would have been affronted by the order, but Bond seemed curious, not demanding at all, and he’d been intending to test it out anyway. He grabbed a spare piece of paper and wrote out his name, his eyes widening as the ink came out smooth and clean.

He turned to Bond, beaming. “It works! I can’t believe it!”

Bond, too, was grinning. “That’s just brilliant, Mr. Boothroyd. You must tell me how it works during our outing.”

Q jumped up. “Oh, goodness, the picnic, I’d better…” He trailed off as he noticed Mr. Bond staring at his chest, an unreadable look on his face. He looked down and - Oh.

He was completely underdressed, in his unbuttoned waistcoat and bare feet. He wasn’t wearing a cravat, either, and the collar of his shirt was opened practically to his sternum. If he were a woman, Q thought absently, he’d be positively indecent.

Q was a perfect opposite to Mr. Bond, who was done up just as a proper gentleman should be, right down to the hat under his arm. If Q had been embarrassed before, it was nothing compared to now.

“If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Bond, I have to go make myself presentable.”

Bond smirked, an expression not unlike the one he so often sent Eve on his face. “I actually think this look rather suits you. You look every bit the absent-minded inventor we all know you to be.”

Q had no idea what to say to this, so he simply scurried off, face practically aflame.

He had hoped to escape to his room without being seen, but he of course he ran into Eve on the stairs. She let out a truly unladylike snort at the sight of him.

“Good lord, Q, you didn’t let Mr. Bond see you like that, did you?”

Q’s beet red cheeks were more than enough of an answer, so he didn’t bother to reply.

The party elected to walk the mile or so to R’s chosen picnic spot, up on a hill overlooking a nearby lake. The six of them paired off, and Q ended up alongside Trevelyan.

“Mr. Bond tells me you’re from the North,” Q said, hoping to start an easy conversation.

“Yes, Yorkshire,” Trevelyan responded with a wave of his hand. He evidently had other matters he wanted to discuss. “Bond seems rather fond of you, don’t you think?”

Q looked at the gentleman incredulously. “If by ‘fond of’ you mean ‘determined to goad,’ then yes, I’d agree.”

Trevelyan laughed. “Bond loves to rile people up, to challenge them, and it seems that you give as good as you get. He likes that.”

“Oh. Well. Er - he’s not all bad, I suppose.”

At this, the other man laughed so hard he pulled the others’ attention to the two of them. “Such glowing praise! Be careful now, Q, you wouldn’t want to be too effusive.”

They walked for some time, as R’s preferred picnic spot was perhaps four or five miles away. No member of their party seemed to mind; it was a fine day, and the walk toward the hill was filled with sunshine, a warm breeze keeping them cool.

Eventually, R called for Trevelyan, asking for his opinion on some matter, and Q found himself walking with Tanner instead.

“You and Bond seem to have made amends,” Tanner began, and Q groaned inwardly. Must every conversation he had come back to James Bond?

“Yes, well…”

“He told me, you know. What he said at the assembly.”

Q cringed. He didn’t care to know if Tanner agreed with his friend’s initial assessment of his character. “Oh?”

“I won’t insult you and try to defend his words, rude and careless as they were. But you mustn’t think him wholly callous.”

Q wondered what it was about Bond that made Tanner so protective of his reputation. “Neither of us made the best impression on each other at our first meeting. I think perhaps we both deserve a second chance,” He responded diplomatically.

Tanner grinned at him. “I’m glad to hear you say that. I must confess, I’ve never seen Bond so horribly ashamed. To think, the great James Bond was humbled by a scrawny twenty-year-old with a sharp tongue.”

At this, Q gave his companion a perplexed look. “‘The great James Bond?’”

“Yes, he’s a war hero, didn’t you know? Why do you think he’s retired so young?”

He’d wondered, of course, why it was that Bond had left the Navy, but…

Tanner went on. “There was a battle, you see, and one of Bond’s men was shot in the abdomen. Ronson, I think his name was. Bond had orders to abandon him, but he couldn’t do it. He tried to stop the bleeding, to get Ronson to safety, but he made himself a target while he was trying to move him. Bond took a bullet to the shoulder, then to the stomach. Fell overboard. Nearly drowned.”

“What about the man? Ronson?”

“He died, despite everything. Bond was given an honorable discharge, and here we are, two years later.” He paused, before giving Q an earnest look. “James Bond might seem a bit of a cad, and an arrogant one, at that, but he’s a good man. He saved dozens of lives in the Navy. Ronson was just one of the unlucky ones.”

 

Q glanced over at Bond, curious. Could it really be that the man walking alongside his sister was such a hero? From what Tanner had said, Bond could be a figure out of legends or fairy tales.

It seemed that yet again Q was left to wonder at the puzzle that was James Bond.

 

*****

 

It had been three weeks since the picnic, and the Moneypenny house was all atwitter. Q had left the outing with an honest-to-goodness commission from the three other gentlemen for some of his replenishing quills, and R and Eve had left with a promise from Bond to host a private ball at Vauxhall at their earliest convenience.

Their earliest convenience, it had turned out, had been this evening, and all the respectable families in the area were invited to the great estate for drinking and dancing and lively conversation. Q suspected that this had more to do with Bond wanting to make a good impression on this new social circle in which he’d found himself than with Eve and R’s meddling, but he wasn’t about to say anything to his sisters.

Q once again found himself serving as a lady-in-waiting for his sisters, this time attiring themselves in fine gowns of periwinkle and powder blue. No sooner had he tied the final bow behind Eve’s dress than he was being dragged back to his own bedroom and told that he simply must wear the emerald green coat, and a vest a darker shade of the same color. He asked R just why he had to wear this particular ensemble as she did up the white cravat under his chin.

“Because it brings out your eyes, silly,” she answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Why it was necessary to bring attention to his eyes, Q had no idea. He supposed the girls would want him to look as presentable as possible, if only to avoid being embarrassed by their less handsome brother.

If Vauxhall was grand during the day, it was nothing compared to its splendor in the early evening, all lit up and dazzling. As they drove along the main path, Q was particularly enchanted by the way the torches and lights shone upon the nearby river, shimmering and sparkling.

They joined the line of visitors waiting to greet the host, and Q smiled fondly as R stepped up on her tip toes, no doubt trying to get a glimpse of her new suitor. Soon enough they were face to face with Bond and Trevelyan, the two men looking dashing in different hues of dark blue.

“My dear Miss Moneypennys, you get more and more beautiful each time I see you,” Trevelyan said with a bow, Bond echoing the sentiments soon after. They exchanged pleasantries with Mr. and Mrs. Moneypenny briefly, but Q could not stop looking at the way Bond’s light blue cravat highlighted his eyes. They looked positively dazzling, shining brightly and lit up with merriment. Perhaps this was the point of “bringing out” one’s eyes; Eve was sure to notice how handsome Bond looked in his blues.

It was only when Bond quirked an amused brow at Q that he realized he’d been looking for far too long at the other man. He blushed fiercely and gave a quick, polite bow before darting off into the fray.

Though the ball was private and therefore less crowded than the usual affairs, there were still perhaps one hundred too many people for Q’s tastes. He quickly found a corner to stand in, sipping at a glass of champagne he’d snagged off a passing waiter and smiling at the way Trevelyan was craning his neck to keep his eyes on R instead of the person he was meant to be welcoming to the event.

“Q!” a voice called from across the room, and he suddenly found himself with an armful of small blonde woman.

“Madeleine! When did you get back from Paris?”

Madeleine had been visiting her aunt in France for the past six months, and Q’s social circle had become even smaller upon her departure (only to expand quite suddenly only a few weeks ago, he mused).

“You look wonderful, darling. Paris suits you,” Q remarked, pulling back to get a good look at his long-absent friend, still holding her hands. She was a vision in white, her fair hair pinned up in a complicated twist.

“Mr. Boothroyd, you must introduce me to your lovely friend,” came a voice from behind him. Q jumped as he felt Bond’s warm arm snake around him, his hand settling companionably against his waist.

“Oh yes, of course,” Q replied. Madeleine was a truly beautiful woman; no doubt Bond was intrigued by her….well, everything. “Miss Madeleine Swann, might I introduce you to our generous host, Mr. James Bond?”

Madeleine curtsied appropriately, and the older man bowed, although Q noticed with some confusion that Bond kept his hand firmly on his waist.

“And how do you know our Mr. Boothroyd, Miss Swann?” Bond asked. There was something odd in his tone, though Q could not place it.

“Oh, Mrs. Moneypenny once thought it a good idea to pair us off.” At Madeleine’s words, Bond’s grip against Q’s hip tightened, bewilderingly.

“But we were determined to remain only friends, much to her consternation,” Q finished, and Bond seemed to relax minutely.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Before Q could find a way ask what this odd behavior was about, Bond pulled away, releasing his hold.

“Well, I must be off: parties to host, people to greet, that sort of thing. It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Swann. Any friend of Mr. Boothroyd is a friend of mine.” And then he was gone, making his way through the crowd toward Tanner and another tall man Q didn’t recognize.

“He seems amiable,” Madeleine commented, although Q could tell she too was confused by Bond’s sudden appearance and equally sudden departure.

“I find him terribly vexing, most of the time,” Q admitted with a shrug. “But yes, I suppose he’s quite charming, when he wants to be.”

Soon after their strange encounter with Bond, the music began, and Madeleine was whisked away to dance by a handsome man with a friendly smile. Q didn’t begrudge her the fun one bit, and contented himself with sipping his drink and watching the couples as they glided across the ballroom floor. The younger Miss Moneypenny was, naturally, partnered with Trevelyan, and more than once the man nearly stumbled into the person next to him, so caught up in gazing at R.

It seemed that R wasn’t the only one predisposed to mooning over a beautiful face.

Bond was dancing with Eve, and Q felt something odd twist in his stomach at the sight of the pair laughing together. At the sight of the beautiful couple as they came together then spun apart, over and over.

He was just worried for his sister.

That was it.

He’d always been protective, after all.

The song ended, and his gaze suddenly locked with Bond’s blue eyes. His own widened, and he ducked his head, rattled at having been caught staring.

Q was distracted from his embarrassment by Madeleine bodily hauling him to the center of the room, determined to dance with him “at least once, Q, please?”

He managed to avoid any major disasters, and the blunders he did make were small enough that only Madeleine noticed, laughing fondly and shaking her head at her hapless friend.

Q was infinitely relieved when the dance finally ended, bowing to a smug-looking Madeleine with a playful roll of his eyes. He glanced to his left, only to see Bond placing a lingering kiss on the back of Eve’s hand.

And there was that strange feeling again, roiling and hot.

He felt suddenly too warm, too claustrophobic, too...too much. He had to get away. So Q turned to Madeleine, giving her a kiss of her own, before making his way through the crowded room and onto the balcony at the back. He found, however, that the noise and the frenetic energy of the ball behind him was still too close, so he made his way down the stone steps and headed toward the river, perhaps a two-minute walk.

The water was even more dazzling up close: the warped reflection of the lights from the house seemed to make the surrounding area glow, so much so that Q felt he could easily navigate the a good portion of the grounds without so much as a candle to guide him.

He leant against a nearby willow tree, calming himself from his sudden bout of nerves in the ballroom. He’d have to return soon enough, but for now he would enjoy the river, the solitude, and cool, crisp, early September air.

“It’s really quite something isn’t it? The river, that is.”

Q jumped nigh on a foot in the air, his heart racing at the sudden fright. “Good god, man, it’s as if you intend to startle me into an early grave!” he exclaimed, clutching his chest.

Bond laughed, and Q thought it horribly unfair that even in this dim light his blue eyes seemed to sparkle. “Forgive me. Shall I take to stomping wherever I go?”

Q ignored the sarcastic reply. “What are you doing out here, Mr. Bond?”

Bond shrugged. “I went out on the balcony for some air, and once I saw you it didn’t take much of a leap to guess who it was out here all on his own.”

Q looked down at his feet. “I do not have that happy talent of conversing easily with those I do not know, or indeed of socializing in a crowded room,” he admitted.

“I don’t know if anyone has that talent, per se,” Bond responded, walking over to lean next to Q against the tree. “Most of us simply fake it. I find it all rather tedious, myself, but I’ve had more time than you to grow used to the hullaballoo.”

Q laughed at that, a bit wistfully. “My father used to say that. ‘What’s all this hullaballoo, my little Q?’ It’s a rather silly word, don’t you think?”

“So Mr. Moneypenny came up with that nickname?”

“No, it was my birth father, Geoffrey Boothroyd.” Q looked toward the river and away from Bond’s inquisitive gaze, taking in the dancing lights. “He was a blacksmith in town, and a great friend of Mr. Moneypenny’s. By the time he died, more people called me ‘Little Q’ than Quentin. He passed when I was seven, and the Moneypennys took me in.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bond replied, in that helpless yet sincere way people tended to do when faced with another’s grief.

“It was a long time ago,” Q said with a shrug. Then he smiled as he turned to the other man. “Besides, it’s quite fun to see people’s reaction when I say Eve and Rosalind are my sisters. You looked like you were going to swallow your tongue, you were so curious.”

“You don’t exactly look like a Moneypenny,” Bond replied.

From the house they could hear a slower piece start, the music carrying from the open balcony doors across the short distance to the riverside.

“I don’t recognize this style,” Q commented, trying to place the sweeping violin notes.

“It’s called the Ländler*. It’s an Austrian dance Trevelyan and I learned during our travels. It’s perfect for two; no doubt he’s led Miss Rosalind to the center of the ballroom to impress her.”

Q smiled at the thought, before turning toward the house curiously. He did loathe dancing, but it was always interesting to see something new…

Bond cleared his throat, and Q turned to see the man bowing slightly, his hand outstretched. “May I have this dance, Herr Boothroyd?”

Q chuckled, taking the proffered hand. “Why certainly, Herr Bond. Though I will warn you, I’m an appalling dancer even when I know the steps.”

And so they stumbled their way through the Austrian dance, laughing throughout.

“All right, follow my lead,” Bond said at one point, taking both of Q’s hands in his and leading them in a straight line, although -

“I’m sorry, are we hopping?”

“More like skipping, I’d say,” the older man said with a bright smile.

There were some steps Q found he knew after all, though it was unusual for a couple to hold hands for nearly an entire dance.

“Mr. Bond, must there be so much twirling? I’m going to get dizzy!”

Bond gave him a fond, if exasperated, look as he turned Q back to face him, their arms crossed over and forming an ‘x’ of sorts between them. “Honestly, Mr. Boothroyd, I’ve never had a dance partner who gripes as much as you.”

Bond pulled a connected arm over their heads, forming an almost halo around one side of their bodies, before spinning Q in a slow circle.

The dance suddenly felt less fun and silly, and more personal somehow. The smile didn’t fade from Bond’s face, but it did soften, as if he too felt the change in atmosphere.

“You look rather dashing tonight, Mr. Boothroyd,” Bond commented, apropos of nothing.

Q flushed at the praise. “I - thank you. My sisters tell me green brings out my eyes.”

“So it does,” Bond replied, still wearing that strange, intimate smile. “Though I’d say they’re more of an forest green than an emerald.”

“I - I didn’t know there was a difference,” Q stuttered in response. What does one say to such a comment?

“Emerald green,” Bond began - and oh, Q hadn’t meant to start a lesson on colors - “Always has a hint of blue in it, like say, the green in a peacock’s feather.”

They were still spinning slowly, making small circles across the grassy river’s edge. Q simply could not look away from those entrancing blue eyes.

“Whereas forest green,” Bond continued, “Is just what it sounds like. It’s the color of the leaves of a maple tree in the spring, of the vines of ivy that grow along the walls of Vauxhall. Not a trace of blue to be found. A color we see every day, naturally, but just as extraordinary as any jewel.”

“Oh,” Q whispered. He was certain his face was bright red, so flustered was he. He floundered for words for a moment, before he noticed something: “The music’s stopped.”

Bond slowly let their hands fall, though he did not let go. “So it has.”

They stood there for a time, simply gazing at each other, still a tad breathless from the more active parts of the dance. The orchestra started up again, this time a fast group dance that Q did recognize, and the moment was broken.

Q pulled his hands back, wringing them together and adjusting his glasses. “Thank you, Mr. Bond, for teaching me. I’ve always enjoyed learning, even if it’s something as simple as a dance.”

Bond quirked his lips in amusement, giving Q a slight bow. “The pleasure was all mine, Mr. Boothroyd. If you ever find need of a dance partner, you’ll know where to find me.”

They walked back to the ball in companionable (if strangely charged) silence, parting with friendly smiles as they were practically dragged apart, Q by Mrs. Moneypenny and Bond by a random party guest.

Later, when Q was back in his corner, this time accompanied by Tanner, he noticed Eve and Bond were dancing again. And yet, when he saw them laughing and clasping hands, that odd twisting feeling was gone.

Most peculiar.

 

*****

 

“And where did you disappear to, brother dear?” Eve asked as Q helped to unlace her dress.

Q hesitated. For some reason, his time with Mr. Bond felt rather private, like a precious secret between the two men. “Oh, you know me. I had to go outside, get away from all that noise.”

R wandered over, sitting next to Q on the edge of the bed she and Eve shared. “I wish you could have seen that new dance Mr. Trevelyan taught us. It was ever so romantic.”

Q smiled. “R, you think everything Mr. Trevelyan does is romantic.”

Eve and Q let their sister ramble on about Trevelyan, telling them how very handsome he was, and how very smart, and did they know he speaks Russian?

After about twenty minutes, Eve interjected. “Say, Q, did you happen to meet Mr. Mallory?”

Mr. Gareth Mallory was, Q learned, the tall, middle aged man that had been standing with Tanner earlier in the evening. He was the new printer from town, and had apparently made Bond’s acquaintance during their time in the Navy. It was pure chance that they’d settled in the same county. Eve, evidently, liked Mr. Mallory enormously. She’d always been fascinated with print, with the power of the press and so on and so forth, and the man had been more than happy to discuss his work with her. He’d even offered to show her his printing press the next time she made her way into town.

“I’m surprised you found the time to speak with Mr. Mallory, given how often you danced with Bond.” Q was surprised to find that his voice came out rather snippier than he’d intended.

Eve sent him another one of those infuriating, knowing looks. “I needed a break from Mr. Bond. He may be a fine dancer, but the conversation was rather one note.”

Q was surprised at this. He’d always found his conversations with Bond quite stimulating, frustrating though they were. “How so?”

“Well, all he ever talked about was you.”

 

*****

 

Within the next three days a letter arrived from Vauxhall, once again inviting Q and his sisters to dine at the estate, though this time it was an offer of lunch and perhaps an afternoon ride across the grounds.

R scanned the letter with barely contained excitement, before she paused, taken aback. “Oh. Mr. Bond will not be dining with us.”

Q’s head snapped up from where he’d been fiddling with his eggs. “What? Why?”

“It would seem he’s gone to London on some business.”

“So suddenly? He made no mention of it at the ball on Friday.”

“I thought you said you didn’t see much of Mr. Bond that night,” Eve commented shrewdly.

Q felt his ears pink slightly at having been caught in a lie. He made up a quick excuse. “I - I only meant that he would have said something to one of you, surely.”

Eve didn’t look like she fully believed him, but thankfully she let the matter drop.

The outing at Vauxhall the following day was pleasant enough, Q supposed. He enjoyed Tanner and Trevelyan’s company, after all, and Mr. Mallory had accompanied them to even out the party’s number.

(“Ah, Mr. Boothroyd. Miss Eve tells me you’re nearly as stubborn as her.”

“Mr. Mallory, I think you’ll find that there is no person anywhere close to as stubborn as Eve.”)

Still, Q found he rather missed Mr. Bond’s conversation, vexing though it so often was.

A letter arrived for Q a week after the ball at Vauxhall, along with a small package.

“Who could be sending me a letter? I hardly know anyone outside the county,” he remarked, curious. He retreated to Mr. Moneypenny’s study for some privacy from his sisters’ prying eyes.

 

My dear Mr. Boothroyd,

You’ll be pleased to know I write this letter with your brilliant little invention, rather than a typical quill and inkwell…

It was with great regret that I had to depart Vauxhall so suddenly, and thus distance myself from your scintillating company. I will not bore you with the details, as they are unfortunately rather ordinary and dull.

Trevelyan informed me of his plans to invite you and the Miss Moneypennys to tea, and perhaps to go riding. For some reason, the thought of you on a horse amuses me greatly; perhaps it is your own coltish manner, particularly when dancing.

As for the package you no doubt have received, I’m afraid it’s rather less exciting than a quill that replenishes its own ink. I found it in a clockmaker’s shop near my London home. It seems rather silly, but I saw this little gadget with its cogs and gears and thought of you. It’s called a ‘ boîte à oiseau chanteur,’ or a ‘singing bird.’

Yours,

James Bond

 

Bond was rather more verbose in writing than in person, he mused to himself. Q reread the letter several times, before realizing with a start that he hadn’t stopped smiling since he’d first recognized Bond’s handwriting, nor had he stopped blushing since he’d read ‘My dear Mr. Boothroyd .’

He set the parchment down on Mr. Moneypenny’s desk, before turning his attention to the parcel. He carefully loosened the twine, pulling away the brown packing paper to reveal a silver box with a delicate engraving of a flower on the lid. There was a small key inserted into the side, with a note in Bond’s familiar hand tied to the end: Turn Me .

Q did so, carefully twisting the key until he heard a mechanism click into place. He laughed in delight as the lid swung open, revealing a small blue bird nestled above an intricately carved silver platform, chirping a vaguely familiar tune.

When Q recognized the song as that Austrian music to which he and Bond had danced, his delighted smile turned into something terribly soft.

He grabbed a piece of parchment and raced to his workshop, ignoring his sister’s curious questions over the letter. It was only when he’d sat at his workbench that Q came across a conundrum: he had no idea what to say.

He glanced around his table, looking for something to send in return, when - ah.

 

Mr. Bond,

Consider yourself lucky that your singing bird is simply far too beautiful to tinker with, otherwise it would be difficult to resist taking it apart to find just how it works.

I hardly know what to say in response to such a gift, other than to offer my sincere thanks, and a parcel of my own.

It’s nowhere near as splendiferous, but it is of my own hand: a pocket watch of sorts, but instead of sitting in one’s coat, it wraps around one’s wrist. The leather straps have a latching mechanism not unlike a belt, you’ll find. This particular creation is borne out of necessity rather than innovation, as I constantly seem to be losing my own watch.

In regard to our luncheon at Vauxhall, I must admit it was strange to find myself at your great estate without having someone with whom to bicker. It was almost peaceful.

It was also dreadfully boring.

As for the reason for your sudden departure, I find it unlikely that it actually is dull. I can’t imagine that any situation in which you find yourself could ever truly be ordinary.

Sincerely,

Quentin Boothroyd

 

*****

 

Bond’s stay in London stretched for nearly three months, and hardly a week would pass without a letter from the gentleman, sometimes accompanied by parcels and sometimes not, but always filled with clever words and fond remarks. Q often wondered why it was that no letters ever seemed to arrive for Eve, but then he supposed he wouldn’t know much about the finer points of courtship. Perhaps it was untoward for a man to write so often to a woman so handsome, esteemed and, most importantly, single.

The second letter from Bond came with another singing bird. I would not want to hinder you in your scientific endeavors, Bond had written, and so I thought it prudent to give you a second little box, so you may appease your curiosity fully.

Q had learned, in this second letter, that Bond had been called to London on urgent business with a former colleague from the Navy, who had rather unexpectedly found himself in need of aid in the wake of an attack on his person. To which Q had replied that this reason was perhaps the exact opposite of dull and ordinary.

The criminal in question had been found within a month, but Bond had elected to stay and help his friend run his smithy until the man was back on his feet.

Q had told Eve of this kindness, sure that she would be pleased of her possible suitor’s generous nature. She had only smiled in response, and remarked that Mr. Bond must be very eager indeed to stay in the city and search for more fine gifts for his new friend.

The small bookshelf in his bedroom had slowly been filled with trinkets and knick knacks sent from London, but the last of Bond’s gifts was altogether unexpected, arriving only one week before the man himself.

Q had taken to reading Bond’s letters in his own bedroom, where he was (slightly) less likely to be interrupted by his nosy sisters.

 

My dear Mr. Boothroyd,

I write with glad tidings: I shall return to the country at last, this second week of December. I will be able to host you and your Moneypennys for a holiday dinner after all.

You must pardon this last gift, as it is perhaps more extravagant than the trinkets to which we have grown accustomed. I found myself in a cartographer’s shop recently, in search of a particular map of Scotland, when I discovered a quaint little bookstore not two doors down.

It is not an original edition, for I am not so wealthy as you seem to think, but it has aged enough to have taken on that ‘old book smell’ of which you so fondly wrote.

I could think of no greater gift for a most esteemed inventor than a work of one such engineer nearly his equal.

I eagerly look forward to our next meeting, in person at long last.

Yours,

James Bond

 

Q frowned at the letter, perplexed at the mysterious phrasing. In the past, Bond had been quite forthcoming on the nature of his little trinkets. What gift could possibly be so splendid and unreasonable that it would make Bond bashful?

Under the wrapping paper lay a thick leather bound book, with no discernable title or artwork on the jacket. He peeked inside, perplexed at the note slipped under the front cover: I do hope you can read Italian.

It was only once he lifted the slip of paper that Q understood.

 

Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche Intorno a Due Nuove Scienze

Attenenti alla Mecanica & Movimenti Locali

Del Signor Galileo Galilei Linceo

 

Q peeked at the inside jacket, gasping when he saw the publishing date: the book was just over a hundred years old.

He clutched the book to his chest, giggling breathlessly as he remembered Bond’s words.

‘Nearly his equal’, indeed.

 

*****

 

Not three days after Bond’s homecoming, the Moneypenny girls and Q were once again invited to Vauxhall. Despite the temperature, despite the ominous-looking clouds overhead, and despite her children’s pleas, Mrs. Moneypenny for some inexplicable reason would not allow them to take the carriage, instead insisting that the trio ride horseback.

By the time he and his sisters arrived at the estate by the river - Q and R on Pierce and Eve on Roger - they were chilled to the bone and shaking like leaves. Q couldn’t even properly appreciate the sight of his long absent friend, so cold was he. The bright smile he offered Bond as the man helped him to dismount was somewhat diminished by his ceaselessly chattering teeth.

“What the devil were you three thinking, riding horseback in such weather?” Trevelyan exclaimed as he offered R his coat, bewildered.

Eve - who had accepted Mallory’s own coat as they walked into the house - replied for her sister, who was so cold Q doubted she could speak even if she wanted. “Our mother’s reasoning is, as always, a mystery.”

“Well, thankfully your mother will not be responsible for your succumbing to frostbite; there’s a large fire already lit and waiting for you inside,” Bond commented, ushering the party into one of the drawing rooms. The groans the siblings let out at the sudden warmth upon entering the room were nothing short of blissful.

“Would you think us horribly uncivilized if we were to just sit on the floor in front of the fire?” Q asked, though his nearly unconscious movements toward the fireplace gave away how little he cared about the answer.

The conversation, once the trio had begun to thaw, was just as pleasant and lively as always, though Q remained on the floor in front of the fire, leaning against Eve’s leg (once she’d felt warm enough, she moved to a chair, though Q was quite comfortable where he was). So cozy was Q that he began to doze, only stirring when he felt his sister run gentle hands through his hair, telling him that supper had been announced.

He snapped upright, glasses askew and cheeks flushed dark red, to the sight of the entire party looking at him with amusement. Bond walked over and offered Q his hand, helping the younger man to his feet as he tried to regain his composure.

“I am so dreadfully sorry,” he started, hanging back slightly behind the others to properly apologize to his host, “I would never mean to imply that your company, or indeed the company of your guests, is dull or uninteresting, I was just so warm, and - ”

Bond raised his hand, silencing Q with a chuckle. “It’s quite alright, Mr. Boothroyd. If anything, I’m flattered that you feel so comfortable in my home.”

Dinner went more smoothly, namely because Q didn’t fall asleep this time. He found himself constantly glancing at Bond, even when the other man wasn’t speaking. Had his hair always been so golden? Had his hands always been so very broad and warm? Q had wondered, months ago, if he’d been recalling the other man’s eyes as far more blue than they were in actuality, but this was not the case. Bond’s eyes were, if anything, even more brilliant than Q remembered.

The fourth time Bond caught him staring, quirking an amused brow at the younger man, Q shook himself and focused all his attention on R, who was speaking at length about her keen interest in history, particularly that of Russia. Q found his eye wandering, not because he found the conversation uninteresting, but rather because Trevelyan was, from where he was sat across from the woman, gazing at R as if she’d hung the moon herself. The man was positively entranced, rapturous as he listened to her.

Q caught Eve’s eye across the table just as they both looked away from Trevelyan, and they shared a small, secretive smile over the sight of a man so clearly in love with their sister.

It was only as they were preparing to depart that Q and his sisters realized the motive behind Mrs. Moneypenny’s plotting: it was snowing, and quite heavily. A cursory check outside by Mallory confirmed what they all already knew: there was no way the three could ride back home in such a blizzard.

Bond waved off their objections, their insistence that they didn’t wish to be burdens or impose on their host. “I have more than enough room for the three of you, as well as the rest of our little group.”

Bond led them all to their intended rooms. Trevelyan lived at Vauxhall, so he bid them goodnight and disappeared into his own bedroom; Tanner and Mallory had stayed previously and retreated to the rooms they’d taken in the past; Eve and R would share a room at their own request, and with a kiss on each of Q’s cheeks they were gone.

This left Q and Bond, the two men walking in comfortable silence up a flight of stairs and into a spacious room with a gorgeous view of the twinkling river and the expansive grounds. Q smiled with fond remembrance at the sight of the old willow under which he and Bond had shared that unusual dance.

“I’ll leave you to your rest, Mr. Boothroyd,” Bond said with a slight bow, going to leave. He paused at the door. “I’m only just down the hall, if you should find need of me.”

Q nodded, staring at the door long after Bond had closed it behind him.

He shed his coat then sat at the bench along the windowsill for some time, simply watching as the lights from the house danced along the river’s reflection. He found, much to his chagrin, that despite the late hour, he was not tired; his unintentional nap earlier was surely to blame.

He undid his cravat, leaving it on the bedside table as he snuck out of his room, carrying a small candlestick. It was near eleven o’clock, and no doubt the rest of the house was asleep, so he tiptoed his way down the stairs and back to the main rooms on the first level.

Q had never really looked around Vauxhall; his visits had been confined to the sitting and dining rooms mostly, apart from the ballroom in September.

There was a room devoted entirely to statues, beautiful people and creatures forever captured in marble and alabaster. Nearly every piece, Q noticed, was romantic in nature, with the few exceptions being those of war. He discovered a small study with almost every surface covered in maps and atlases, no doubt remnants of Bond’s travels and life in the Navy.

Q’s journey ended not halfway through the first level, when he came across a huge library with towering shelves lining the walls, filled to overflowing with books. So tall were the bookcases that a rolling ladder sat in the corner, and Q was fairly itching to climb to the very top and see what books were hiding beyond his reach.

“I thought I might find you in here.” Bond had once again managed to sneak up on Q. He was similarly dressed down, his blue coat no doubt abandoned in his own bedroom. “You left your door open; I had visions of you being buried in the snowstorm, not wandering around my dark house,” he said with a smile.

“It’s beautiful,” Q replied in all sincerity.

“The house, or the library?” Bond asked, as he knew Q all too well.

“Both.” Although Q vastly preferred the sight of hundreds and hundreds of books to that of naked women carved from stone.

Bond just smiled, moving to sit at the windowsill, staring out at the snowstorm illuminated by the neatly placed lanterns outside the house. After a moment’s hesitation, Q joined him, pulling his knees up to his chest.

“I - Mr. Bond, I haven’t yet thanked you for the book you gave me.”

Bond waved his hand, dismissing Q’s wide-eyed gratitude. “It was nothing, really.”

Q shook his head, looking at Bond earnestly. “No, it wasn’t nothing. I’ve… you…  No one’s ever given me such a thoughtful gift before. It was a great kindness, to give me something I would treasure so deeply. I don’t know how I could ever repay you.”

Bond had turned from the window to watch Q as he spoke, a warm smile on his face. “Simply knowing you enjoyed the gift is more than enough, Mr. Boothroyd.”

“Q,” he corrected softly.

Bond’s eyebrows raised. “Have I finally earned the right to your little nickname, then?”

“Mr. Bond, I think you’ll find that you earned it a long time ago.”

 

*****

 

It was over the Easter holidays a few months later that Q’s friendship with Bond went from delightfully vexing to painfully disconcerting.

The Easter lunch Bond hosted at Vauxhall was not nearly so large as the ball he’d held all those months ago, but certainly crowded enough to make Q uncomfortable. Even thirty or so people were too many for Q.

He didn’t quite know why, but when Bond immediately came to his side upon his arrival Q was inordinately pleased. His pleasure was increased tenfold when Bond pulled up his sleeve to check the watch on his wrist - the watch Q had given him - as he teasingly scolded the Moneypennys for being five minutes late.

The two men walked into the great house side by side, trailing behind the rest of Q’s family as they chattered and bickered over the book of sonnets Bond had leant him. Bond had been eager to hear his thoughts, and he could swear the man looked almost disappointed when Q admitted to preferring books of science or history to poetry. He could not fathom why Bond would care so much whether Q liked the poems or not, but Q hastened to add that the imagery and sentiments of the sonnets were lovely. He was loathe to see the other man discouraged.

Bond brightened at this considerably, though Q had to ask: “Why did you choose a book of sonnets, of all things, to give me? I’m no poet.”

“A certain phrase came to mind, and reminded me of you, my dear Q.”

Q gave him a questioning look. “I confess I cannot think of any sonnet that resembles me.”

They’d come to a stop just outside the drawing room, and Bond took a step closer, his bright eyes amused and fond. He leaned close, whispering the sweet lines into Q’s ear. “‘ It is my love that keeps mine eye awake, mine own true love that doth my rest defeat.’”

Q felt warm all over, felt his cheeks redden and his hands begin to sweat, though he did not understand why a fanciful quote he’d already read would fluster him so. He took a step back and cleared his throat. “Yes, well. We did stay up rather late that night in the library, I must say. When did we end up retiring to our rooms? It must have been nigh on one in the morning.”

Bond, inexplicably, rolled his eyes with an exasperated huff, muttering about ‘impossible, thickheaded boys’ as he led a baffled Q into the drawing room and thus the crowd of guests.

Bond left him with Eve and Mallory as he went around the room, performing his duties as host. Q tried to pay attention to the conversation, he really did, but all the two ever seemed to talk about was newspapers and ‘the power of the press.’ It grew dreadfully boring after a time, although he was glad Eve had found someone other than him to talk about politics with; he was much more interested in his texts and inventions than in the deeds or misdeeds of others.

Q found his gaze drawn to Bond, over and over again. He’d scan the room, smiling at the sight of R and Trevelyan talking animatedly or Tanner looking rather trapped in a conversation with Mrs. Moneypenny, only to glance back at Bond.

The older man was conversing with Madeleine, and seemed to be quite invested in the discussion: his eyes never strayed from hers; his smile was charming and genuine; he was standing rather close to her… Bond kissed the back of her hand delicately, giving her a flirtatious wink, and Q found that he could not bear the sight of him.

Q quietly excused himself from the conversation to which he hadn’t been listening, citing a need for some air as he left the room, hoping he hadn’t attracted too much attention with his sudden exit. He didn’t go far, simply across the large hall and into the nearest empty room. It seemed to be a music room of sorts, with a grand piano in one corner and lounge seating, no doubt for a small audience to sit in as one performed. He walked over to the windows, watching dispassionately as the sun began to set behind the sprawling hills and thick trees along the horizon.

Q could not have been gone for more than five minutes when he heard the sound of the door being opened then closed, and footsteps approaching behind him.

“You left in an awful hurry,” Bond remarked, walking over to stand next to Q, frowning at the younger man’s tense posture and crossed arms. When Q simply scowled, he continued, puzzled. “Have I done something to offend you, Q?”

“I have never enjoyed the sight of someone’s emotions being toyed with.”

“And with whom am I meant to have toyed?”

“Don’t you think it unkind to flirt so brazenly with Madeleine, to encourage her interest, when you have no intention of following through?” He glanced away from the other man, looking resolutely out the window. “I hadn’t realized you could be so fickle.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want Madeleine to be hurt by my actions, harmless though they may be.” There was something off about Bond’s tone, but Q was too angry to care to analyze it.

Q scoffed. “Harmless, indeed. That’s the problem with you rich, handsome bachelors; you don’t seem to realize how deeply us little people , like say, Madeleine, are affected by your - your...” He paused, searching for a word. “Allure.”

“Do you honestly believe I think of any person, let alone Madeleine, as little ? Do you think so poorly of my character?” Bond was offended, Q could tell, but as far as he was concerned the man had no right to be.

He whirled on Bond, poking an angry finger into his chest. “And what about Eve?”

At this, Bond stared at Q, incredulous. “Eve? What does Eve have to do with anything?”

“You’ve spent months courting her! All those invitations to Vauxhall, all those outings to town or to our house… you spent half the night dancing with her in September! And now here you are charming Madeleine right in front of her, uncaring for how that might affect her.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to make Eve jealous, would I?” And there was that odd tone again, but Q ignored it.

“Your sarcasm only proves my point. I don’t appreciate you making light of the feelings of a most beloved sister.”

“Do you really think me so callous?” Bond asked, insulted.

“I’m sure I don’t know what to think anymore, Mr. Bond,” Q answered, refusing to back down, despite the hurt that he could see creeping into Bond’s eyes. “Tell me honestly: did you ever have any intention of marrying my sister?”

The look Bond gave Q was a strange mix of bafflement and distress. “Q, none of this has ever been about Eve,” he said pleadingly.

Q let out a cry of outrage. “You - you incorrigible -  selfish - scoundrel! How dare you treat her like this! She deserves better than some arrogant flirt who thinks of nothing but his own entertainment!”

Bond’s face turned stony at this, though his ever expressive blue eyes showed how wounded he truly was. “Is this truly what you think of me?”

Q scowled at the other man, chest heaving with rage. “I think I’ve made myself clear.”

“Perfectly,” Bond said, in clipped tones. And he stormed out of the room without another word, all but slamming the door behind him.

Q collapsed against the window, closing his eyes tightly as he leant his head back against the cool glass. He found that, despite his anger, he regretted his harsh words almost immediately. The pain in Bond’s eyes would haunt him for weeks to come, he was certain.

A knock at the door startled him out of his thoughts, and he jolted upright as it opened slowly. “Mr. Bond, I - ”

He cut himself off at the sight of Trevelyan, and not Bond, in the entryway. “Q! I’m so glad I found you, I’ve been meaning to - good heavens, are you alright?”

“What? Yes, of course,” Q lied.

“It’s just - it looks like you’ve been crying.”

Q reached up to touch his face, and sure enough there were tear stains across his cheeks. He wiped his face on his sleeve hastily. “It’s nothing. What can I do for you?”

Trevelyan didn’t seem satisfied with this answer, but let the matter drop, walking into the room and pacing back and forth in front of Q anxiously.

“I’ve recently bought an estate, not far from here. It’s called Stark Hall; do you know it?”

Q did. Stark was not so large as Vauxhall, but still enormous and impressive in its own right. Why Trevelyan was telling him this was a bit of a mystery. “Congratulations?”

Trevleyan had not stopped pacing. “I would have done this months ago, but I didn’t realize how long the whole blasted process took.” He paused, looking up at Q with wide, earnest eyes. “I wanted to be able to give her a home, you see, one of her own, where she could be close to you all.”

“R?”

Trevelyan nodded, walking over to Q and taking one hand in his own larger ones. “Mr. Boothroyd  - Quentin - Q , I could not begin to tell you how very much it would mean to me if you were to give me your blessing to marry your dear, lovely sister.”

Q stared. “Mr. Trevelyan, you do realize that you don’t need the blessing of your intended’s younger brother.”

“But she adores you, Q. She could not bear it, I could not bear it, if you were to disapprove.”

Q smiled then, his distress over Bond momentarily forgotten. He covered their connected hands with his free one. “Mr. Trevelyan - Alec , I can say with the utmost confidence that there is no other man I would be so pleased to call my brother.”

Trevelyan let out a joyous yell, grabbing Q into a bone-crushing embrace. “Come, quickly!” he all but shouted, grabbing Q and leading him back to the drawing room, where the rest of the party were still chatting amiably.

“Mr. Moneypenny,” Trevelyan called, releasing Q’s hand to tuck his own behind his back, bowing slightly. “I wonder if I may have the privilege of speaking to Miss Rosalind. Alone.”

Mr. Moneypenny let out a chuckle, nodding as his excited wife practically dragged him from the room. Not two minutes later the happy couple emerged, hands clutched tightly together as they beamed. The group in the hall burst into applause, shouting their congratulations.

Q himself was smiling, ever so pleased for R, when his eye caught Bond’s from across the small crowd. Bond’s own celebratory grin slipped off his face as their eyes met, his eyes turning cloudy, before he turned away from Q and back to his friend.

Q was grateful, after this, that he could excuse the reason for his watery eyes as simple joy for his sister, rather than the bitter anguish at destroying perhaps forever a cherished friendship.

 

*****

 

It had been just over two weeks since the party, since Q and Bond’s row and R and Trevelyan’s engagement. Q and Bond had, naturally, still seen much of each other, as their closest companions were preparing to wed, and neither man was nearly so petty as to let a mere fight put a damper on such happiness. Now, however, rather than in laughter and light-hearted bickering, the two men spent their time together (always in groups, never alone) in stiff, stony silence.

Despite the joy he felt for his sister, despite how pleased he was to see her so in love, Q was miserable. When he woke in the morning each day, and every night before he went to sleep, the first and last things he saw were Bond’s gifts from London, lined up along his little bookshelf. They were a cruel reminder of the friendship he had most assuredly lost. There would be no more letters, no more late night conversations, no more visits to Q’s workshop, no more fond smiles, no more….no more Bond .

Q found himself bereft at the thought, but he knew that his cruel words had more than earned him this punishment.

It was, therefore, a great surprise when Bond arrived at the Moneypenny home, unaccompanied, on a rainy Tuesday morning.

The four Moneypennys were out for the morning, having gone into town on some errand for the wedding. Q had begged off joining them, citing a headache. He was sat in the middle of his bed, fiddling forlornly with that first singing bird Bond had given him, still in his oversized nightshirt, his hair wild from sleep and pushed off his forehead.

There was a sudden, persistent knock at his bedroom door. This was, Q thought, rather odd, because he was fairly certain that their one and only maid was out feeding the chickens, and that their footman was out delivering a letter. He crawled out of bed, answering the door with a yawn.

Standing before him in the hallway, soaked from the rain, was none other than Bond himself.

“I - Mr. Bond? What are you doing here?” Q could not help the slightly rude question, so confused was he. When Bond made no move to respond, still staring with an unreadable look on his face, Q continued. “Eve and R are out, if you came to look for them. It’s only me, and….”

Q trailed off when he noticed what Bond was looking at: his large nightshirt (a hand-me-down from Mr. Moneypenny) had fallen off his shoulder, leaving his left collarbone and upper chest completely bare. It was also at this moment that Q remembered he wasn’t wearing any trousers, or his bifocals. He’d never been so horrendously disheveled in front of another person, and certainly not in front of a gentleman.

Q felt himself begin to redden, cursing his pale skin as the embarrassed flush traveled down his neck and onto his uncovered chest. He pulled his collar up, clearing his throat uncomfortably.

“I - I apologize for my appearance, but I wasn’t expecting any visitors,” he stuttered out, wetting his lips with his tongue nervously and running a hand through his unruly hair.

Bond let out a wounded noise and surged forward, clutching Q’s face in his hands as he pressed their lips together desperately.

Q felt his eyes go huge as saucers, his arms flailing uselessly before settling on the lapels of Bond’s still wet coat. The other man was unbearably warm, it seemed, a heat that seeped into Q’s very being, burning him up from within. Almost instinctively, Q tugged Bond ever so slightly closer, his eyes falling shut of their own accord as he tentatively returned the kiss. He gasped as one of Bond’s broad, calloused hands ran through his hair, trembled as the other gripped him by the waist, pulling him nearer and nearer until they were flush against each other, Q’s nightshirt growing damp at the contact.

The kiss was over all too soon, Bond jumping back as if he’d been burned, wild eyed and panting.

“I - I didn’t - ” Bond started to say, before he apparently thought better of it and simply ran from the house, leaving a gobsmacked and flustered Q in his wake.

Q stared at the empty doorway long after the other man was out of sight.

“What,” he said breathlessly, “was that?

 

*****

 

It was late afternoon when the Moneypennys arrived back home, and Q had worked himself into a near frantic state.

Why would Bond kiss him? What did it mean? And oh, how would he tell Eve?

Because he surely would tell her. Never in his life had he been so out of his depth, and he needed his sister.

No sooner had Eve hung up her coat than she was dragged to his bedroom, Q closing the door behind them as she sat on his bed.

“Q, what on earth is the matter?”

Q, who had begun pacing nearly as soon as she had sat down, didn’t even know where to begin. “I don’t - It’s so - ” He cut himself off, running his hands through his hair in agitation, before simply taking the first plunge. “Bond came here this morning.”

“Oh, thank God,” Eve sighed, which was quite possibly the last answer Q had expected. “Have you two made amends, then? We were all beginning to go mad from all the pouting.”

Pouting?

Q ignored that remark, because he had much more important things to get to. “Eve, he - he kissed me, and I didn’t - I let him, and I’m so sorry, he’s spent all this time courting you, and I can’t believe I - ”

“Q, breathe.”

Q followed his sister’s instructions, sitting next to her on the bed with a sigh. “I am sorry. I was just so confused, and I needed to talk to you, and… ”

“Did Bond say anything? Before he kissed you, I mean,” Eve asked, and goodness, she was taking this rather well, wasn’t she?

“No, he just sort of - did it, then he left. Well, ran away, more like it.”

Eve groaned.

“What a blundering idiot,” she sighed, exasperated. She paused in her irritated mutterings and took a long look at Q, still in his nightclothes. “Although...were you dressed like this when you saw him?”

Q nodded, and she laughed. “Well, no wonder he kissed you! For God’s sake, Q, the man can hardly resist you on a good day, let alone when you’re half-naked.”

“I am not - ”

“You look like something out of a harlequin romance novel, Q.”

Q scowled, prepared to snark right back, when he fully registered what Eve had said. “‘Hardly resist’ me?”

Eve sighed again, this time with a fond smile as she placed Q’s glasses on his face. “I’ve never seen a man so hopelessly, frustratingly in love, and that includes Alec.”

Q reared back. “ What?

“Honestly Q, for someone so brilliant, you really can be obtuse. What kind of friend gives another a book of love poems?

“But - but - you - and he, he was courting you!”

“Q, when you’re in the room Bond hardly pays any attention to anyone else, let alone me. And even when we do talk, it’s always about you.” She went on, deepening her voice as she pretended to be Bond. “‘Is Q alright? He looks tired, has he been getting enough sleep?’; ‘Did you pick out that coat for Q? He looks quite handsome.’; ‘Did Q tell you about his new invention? He’s absolutely brilliant, isn’t he?’...Honestly Q, if it weren’t so sweet it’d be annoying.”

Q was completely gobsmacked. Could Bond really be in love with him ?

“Alec is just thankful that he’s not the only one who has to listen to Bond talk about you,” came a voice from the doorway, and he turned to see R standing there, smiling. “Honestly, Q, I was beginning to wonder if you would ever catch on.”

“And you’re just - fine , with the fact that we’re both men?”

R shrugged. “It’s hardly the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing. Remember those old bachelors who lived by that pond with all the frogs? Mr. Leiter and Mr. Beam?”

Q nodded; they’d played in the banks of that small pond constantly as children, chasing the hopping frogs into the water and around the nearby trees. His father had said the two men were ‘confirmed bachelors’, which meant that they didn’t want to get married. They were very good friends, roommates for most of their lives, in fact and….

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh . Most people thought nothing of two friends living together, and the ones who figured it out simply didn’t say anything. I’m sure no one was throwing them any anniversary parties, but no one wanted to start any sort of scandal. At any rate, most people were too caught up in their own business and affairs to pay the nice, quiet men by the lake any real attention.”

Q, who was still overwhelmed, posed another question. “Why do you know all this? We were still children when they died.”

“Mother told me, after Bond’s first present for you arrived in the mail.”

Mrs. Moneypenny?

“This is far too many epiphanies for one person to be having in a single day,” Q said faintly, pushing his glasses up into his hair so he could rub at his eyes.

“Besides,” Eve chimed in, “if it was good enough for the Ancient Greeks, why should we care?”

“Actually, the Greeks had a very complicated stance on same-sex relationships. Did you know - ”

Eve covered his mouth, rolling her eyes. “We’re trying to tell you that we support you, you insufferable know-it-all, no matter who you love.”

Oh.

Was he in love with Bond?

It had never occurred to Q that it would be possible for him to love Bond, that it was even an option.

It took him less than a minute to make up his mind on the subject, and start running around the room looking for clean clothes.

“I have to - I have to see him, I have to talk to him - ”

“What, now? Q, it’s pouring, and it’ll be almost night by the time you get there,” Eve said, but even as she half-heartedly advised against his going she handed him a pair of trousers.

“I know, but I just….I have to know. For sure.” He grabbed a heavier coat from his closet. He wasn’t wearing a vest or cravat, but he was in a hurry and he didn’t really care who saw him.

“Well, at least take the carriage so you don’t get soaked.”

 

*****

 

It was still raining when the carriage finally pulled up to Vauxhall, though not in the thick, heavy sheets it had been in the morning and afternoon.

Q pushed the door open and jumped out onto the drive with barely a passing greeting to the footman who’d come to greet him, racing up the stairs and into the grand house.

Why did the place have to be so damnably large? He found himself running from room to room, uninvited and possibly unwelcome in the man’s home (if Mrs. Moneypenny ever heard of his doing this, she’d no doubt work herself into a tizzy). He was just heading toward the library when he all but crashed into Trevelyan.

“Q? What in the world - ” He stopped abruptly, his surprised look shifting into something knowing. “Bond’s out for a walk. He’s somewhere on the grounds, brooding and walking around in the mud. You wouldn’t know why he’s brooding, would you?”

The last part of this phrase was called after Q’s retreating back, being that as soon as he’d heard the word “grounds”, he’d been off, running toward the back entrance and onto the rear patio. He was already on the wet grass, standing in the rain, when he realized he had no idea what direction in which to go

Q glanced around, until he saw a figure standing under a familiar tree, just by the river. He started toward the willow, cursing under his breath as the rain started to pick up again and he had to run to the relative shelter of the foliage. The long, draping clusters of the willow’s leaves and vines provided ample protection from the deluge, but Q’s attention left the rain the moment he stepped under the tree and saw Bond.

The man was just as soaked as he’d been that morning, only now Q was in a similar state, his hair dripping onto his collar, his glasses slightly foggy. Bond’s boots were caked in mud, and the blue tails of his coat had darkened to a mucky brown. He’d must have been out walking for some time, Q thought.

Bond startled at the sight of him. “Q - Mr. Boothroyd, I - ”

“Are you in love with me?” Q blurted out, still breathless from his run across the yard.

Bond’s eyes widened. “Pardon?”

“Because I love you, I think. At least - well yes, I think I do. It’s just that I’ve never been in love, you see, so I’m not sure what... All I know is that every time I see you it makes my heart beat faster, and all I ever want to do is make you smile, and I’ve hated every second that we’ve been apart these past few weeks - ”

“Yes.”

“ - and you did kiss me and...what?”

“Yes, I love you.” Bond said, walking hesitantly up to Q.

“Oh. Well, that’s good.”

Bond smiled, though he still looked as though he didn’t believe Q was really there, as though he was concerned Q might disappear.

“I don’t know how to be in love, Mr. Bond,” Q said nervously. “I don’t have any practice at it. Would you - would you show me how?”

Bond laughed at that. “Yes, yes of course I’ll - ” He cut himself off, moving toward Q and kissing him urgently.

It was a gentle kiss, as if Bond thought Q was something fragile, precious; something to be treasured. Q felt something warm spread through him as he realized that to Bond, he was all those things. Bond’s hands shifted down to hold Q’s waist, and in response he wrapped his arms around the older man’s neck, tangling his fingers through Bond’s short hair. He noticed as they held each other that Bond was smiling into the kiss, and found himself giggling at the realization: it would seem that Bond was just as deliriously happy as him. Bond, in response to Q’s giddy laughter, pulled Q more snugly into his arms, lifting and spinning him round. The mud that splattered across their boots and trousers as Q landed went unnoticed.

Bond pulled back slightly, running his nose alongside Q’s, before darting back in to kiss him softly once, twice more. Q kept his eyes closed, afraid that if he were to open them this all might just have been a dream.

“I can’t offer you the big white wedding, or the church, or the little piece of paper. But what I can offer is my heart. Just my heart, and a home, if you’ll have them,” Bond whispered, his hands clenching and unclenching anxiously at Q’s overcoat.

Q sighed, opening his eyes and pulling back to carefully trace his fingers across the lines and freckles on Bond’s handsome face. “I don’t think I can offer you my heart, if only because it was yours long before I even realized it was gone.”

 

*****

 

The morning of the wedding dawned clear and bright, and Q, the Moneypenny family, and what felt like everyone any of them had ever met were crowded into the church to witness the ceremony.

James (for that was what Q called him now, what James wanted Q to call him) was standing next to Trevelyan at the altar, serving as his friend’s best man. Q was having trouble focusing on anything other than how very handsome James looked in his dress uniform.

That is, until Trevelyan’s face lit up, and Q, along with the rest of the congregation, turned to see R walking down the aisle, a vision in white. R had always been a stunning woman, but there was something unspeakably beautiful about the sight of her so happily in love, Q thought. He imagined the expression on her face was much like the one he’d worn himself that rainy evening in late April with James.

The ceremony itself was a touching affair, and Q saw Eve surreptitiously wipe her eyes from where she was standing next to R at the altar. Mrs. Moneypenny, of course, was crying openly, clutching Q’s hand tightly. Indeed, even Q felt himself getting rather choked up. His endeavor to maintain his own composure was hindered when James looked away from the happy couple and to him as they said their vows, as if he was telling Q that he too would be loved in sickness and in health, for better, for worse, till death did they part.

He managed, just barely, not to cry, though it was a near thing.

It was after R and Trevelyan had ridden away in their carriage, as the crowd of guests were still waving farewell, that James put his arm around Q’s waist, pulling him close in what would seem a friendly gesture to any casual observers.

“Shall we go home? I have a surprise for you.”

Q gave him a quizzical look, but James only smiled enigmatically. They said their goodbyes, to the surprise of no one: the happy couple was gone, after all, and everyone knew how much Q loathed large parties.

As soon as the door of the carriage closed behind them James took Q’s hand, lacing their fingers together. Q had found, since he and James had started this new stage of their relationship, that he loved these little gestures the most: holding James’ hand as they wandered the wide grounds of Vauxhall; James reaching out and brushing a lock of hair out of Q’s eyes, just because he could; James leaning his head on Q’s shoulder as they read on the settee… Q cherished this newfound closeness, this intimacy.

James didn’t even wait for the carriage to come to a full stop before he dragged Q out of it, jumping down eagerly. When Q realized where James was leading him, he grew even more confused at what his “surprise” would be.

“I’ve already seen the east drawing room.”

James just smiled indulgently. “Close your eyes.”

Q did so, intensely curious. He let himself be led into the center of the room, and heard as James walked away and pulled open the curtains.

“Alright...now.”

Q opened his eyes and gasped. The drawing room had been completely transformed, and in the place of settees and lounge chairs and end tables were large work counters and shelves filled with books and boxes of tools. Some of Q’s own notes and designs were laid out on one of the desks, he realized, and some of his larger inventions were sitting along the wall.

It was a workshop, made just for him.

“There’s no horses, or cows, and definitely no hay, like in your old workshop, but - ”

James was cut off as Q threw himself at him, wrapping his arms around his middle in a tight embrace. He felt James give a huff of laughter as the other man returned the hug, one hand rubbing Q’s back and the other sliding up to run through Q’s hair.

James pulled back, laughing as he adjusted Q’s askew glasses for him. “I take it you like it?”

Q nodded, beaming and flushed with happiness. “James, you must stop giving me such grand presents. I can’t think of anything that could ever make this up to you.

James smiled fondly. “You’ve already given me the best gift I could ever ask for.”

“And what’s that?”

He leaned forward, reaching up to cradle Q’s face in his hands. “You.”

James kissed him then, and the rest of the world faded away.