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Sigh No More

Chapter Text

 

“Love; it will not betray you

Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free

Be more like the man you were meant to be.

 

There is a design, an alignment to cry

Of my heart to see

The beauty of love as it was made to be.”


Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons

 


 

The name’s Bond. James Bond.

 

His CV is impressive (if one has the appropriate clearance to view it):

 

  • Royal Navy Commander RNR
  • Companion on the Order of St. Michael and St. George
  • A Servant of Her Majesty’s Secret Service: MI6
  • Special Designation Double-Oh Programme: Code name Double-Oh-Seven (007)
  • Special Training: 
  • [redacted]
  • Service Record:
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted]
  • [redacted] 
  • Kill Count: [redacted]

 

As the highest ranking agents within the hierarchy of MI6, the Double-Ohs are in a league all their own. They are revered as much as they are feared and while they aren’t quite legendary, they are all the gossip. When people think about the lifestyle, they conjure up adrenalin-ridden images of fast cars, explosions, and gunfire. They think about the gambling and the sex and the women, the obscenely expensive hotel rooms, the bespoke suits and diamond cufflinks. Bond supposes that’s alright and he’s not about to correct anyone. He’s had his fair share of all of those things--some more than others--and while the lifestyle certainly can seem glamourous, it’s only because those things are exciting to the uninvolved.

 

They’re not boring or ordinary, so they’re worth talking about. No one spares even a thought that Double-Ohs experience their fair share of terrible things as well. There are, of course, the ones that everyone can see when Bond swaggers back to Six, because he’s usually wearing them proudly: the knife slashes, the bullet holes, the road rash, the burns, the broken bones. Then there are the ones that no one but Medical sees because of their gruesome nature, the ones that none of the Double-Ohs can smile through: the ones as the result of torture, from unspeakable things. And then, sometimes, there are no physical marks at all. Those are the ones that Psych is supposed to see, but doesn’t, because people like Bond don’t let people like that inside his head. He keeps all those scars close to his chest so that people keep talking about fast cars and beautiful women and diamond cufflinks. They don’t need to know about the laundry list of things that are most definitely not included on his CV, but can certainly be found if one happens to be looking in the right place.

 

It might read something like one of Psych’s checklists (but only maybe, because Bond has never stuck around through an entire session to find out):

 

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Rampant alcoholism
  • Frequent substance abuse
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Blatant disregard for authority
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Paranoia
  • Adrenalin junkie
  • Anger management issues
  • Recommendation to not be returned to active duty.
  • (Mandatory retirement by age 45: 2 years and 3 months.)

 

Bond’s bitter about the last, and it has less to do with the fact that he’s getting on in age and more to do with the fact that he won’t know what to do with himself if he lives to see retirement. Bond would rather blow his brains out than be useless, than be bored, and that’s exactly where he’s heading if he’s not excessively reckless before that expiration date. But dying means failing, and Bond’s not a failure. He’s too stubborn for that. And the stubbornness, he knows, is what will eventually be the end of him. So he’s a walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecy. But then again, most Double-Ohs are.

 

Still, it’s all so tiring.

 

It’s not like how it used to be. The excitement isn’t there anymore. The thrill of the chase is gone. Bond’s too busy thinking about if he’s going to be fast enough, if he’ll be suave enough, if he’ll have enough in him to pretend to be someone else, even just for a night. He’s thinking about his knees and his bad shoulder and the old breaks and sprains that hurt him when the weather changes. He’s thinking of this when he’s waiting in airport terminals and train stations for hours in uncomfortable plastic seats, when he’s sitting in cabins and carriages and trying to ignore the sick sort of twist in his gut at pressure changes and drops or rises in altitude. He’s thinking of this when he’s breathing in dry, recycled air, when he’s hoping that he won’t have to go through another tedious security check, have another cardboard sandwich, engage in small talk with another lonely passenger.

 

James Bond, 007, is tired of the job he loved, still loves, in the same way he still loves M even though she’s gone. But he’s tired down to his bones, even more so because he knows that retirement will ease none of it, because he’s a little too old for fieldwork and a little too restless for deskwork. There’s no medium, no in-between. He does this until he dies, or he retires and fades away. Neither option is truly appealing.

 

Until he decides, Bond keeps taking planes and trains to foreign locales. He keeps seducing and drinking and shooting. He’s still good at it, he still loves it, but when he’s on the way back to London with his bones aching, he wonders how much longer he can last.

 


 

Bond doesn’t think much of his lifestyle until it happens one evening.

 

He finally arrives in London after a long series of connecting flights from his assignment in Borneo, and he’s leaving the gate when he sees someone waving at him. It’s a pale hand stretched out above the crowd, attached to a woman with dark hair and a beautiful smile. At first, Bond thinks it’s Vesper, but he crushes that rising bloom of hope before it can manifest. It hurts like a scab that’s been reopened, and Bond feels raw and hurt in a way he hasn’t since Venice. He wants to look away, but she’s lovely and looking right at him and smiling and he can’t. No one has ever been waiting for him like that, like they are overjoyed he’s alive and whole and home.

 

He wants to run to her, this stranger who is smiling and bouncing on the balls of her feet with excitement. But as Bond nears, he sees that her eyes are not really on him, but somewhere just past his left shoulder, and once they’re through the gate, someone pushes past him and runs to her. Bond pointedly casts his eyes to the carpet so he does not have to see their embrace. Then he hails a taxi and tries to forget.

 

But he can’t.

 

He thinks a lot about it. He wonders if he had someone there waiting, maybe it would not be so bleak. It’s a long-shot, but he wonders if it’s possible, because in that one moment when he thought that stranger had been looking at him, Bond did not feel the ache so acutely, the weariness so fully.

 

In that moment, he did not feel so alone.

 

So Bond makes a decision, albeit a poor one. It’s a few missions after Skyfall and he’s run-down in a way that he cannot even put into words. Something about it possesses him to call Moneypenny, because even though she shot him off a moving train on accident, she’s still one of the friendliest faces he can think of. She comes to the airport in a company car driven by a professional escort from MI6. She is not waiting at the gate when Bond arrives, but in the back seat of the vehicle, texting on her mobile. As they drive back to his flat, Moneypenny spends the time alternating between disapproving glares and soft, but firm, lecture about the importance of exercising personal safety. She ends her well-intended tirade as they pull up the kerb outside of Bond’s building, and there is a smoulder in her dark eyes that tells Bond she isn’t really angry enough to not have sex with him that night. She’s definitely lovely and Bond would not hesitate to take her to bed under normal circumstances. But Bond is tired enough from the last vestiges of adrenalin in his system combined with the exhausting feat of over thirty hours of air travel that he can’t even think of shagging her.

 

Somehow, he manages to politely extricate himself from the vehicle and goes up to his flat alone, where he drinks himself into a sleep that lasts thirty-six hours. When he wakes, his side is a mess of green and yellow mottled bruises and he has seventeen missed calls from Moneypenny’s personal mobile. He does not return any of them, and every time they come in contact for the next few weeks, she is civil in exchange, but nothing more. It takes some time for her to warm up to him again, though it might be from his silent apologies via anonymously deposited beverages and sweets rather than conscience. He does not regret refusing her that night, but knows now that he will never get another chance. Somehow, that doesn’t bother him like it would have when he was younger and he’s grateful for her company and advice when she offers. Despite their now-strictly-platonic friendship, Bond tells himself then that he will never call Moneypenny in for such a favour again.

 

The next time, Bond is hurting from the aftermath of a car chase that left him limping away from a twisted wreck in Bogota. His shoulder is probably sprained and he’s bruised and cut in places that can thankfully be covered up to not elicit too many questions. He’s forced to fly coach to get out of Colombia before an arms dealer can slice off all of his fingers and toes for revenge, and it’s during a pit stop in Ft. Lauderdale that he calls Tanner. He and Bill had always got on and Bond thinks that maybe a mate is just what he needs to ease the tired thing in him that just can’t be soothed. Tanner picks up after the first ring, and there is a bit of edge to his voice when he hears Bond’s request.

 

“Are you in need of medical assistance?” Tanner asks.

 

“No. I just need a ride,” Bond lies, and Tanner might not believe him, but he agrees.

 

When Bond touches down at Heathrow, there is no one waiting for him at baggage claim, but there is a sleek Town Car idling just outside of Arrivals. Bond slides inside, careful not to pull the dental-floss stitches in his leg as he does so. Tanner takes one look at him and asks if he wants to go for a pint. Honestly, Bond just wants to go back to his flat and forget Colombia ever happened, but he agrees, because he hopes the company will help. That is how he ends up spending half the night in some shithole bar around the corner from Six, drinking with the Chief of Staff. Tanner doesn’t complain much about Mallory like Bond thought he might, but he grouses about audits and some sort of staff shuffle in Intentions for a good hour, then goes on about footie for a bit until Bond makes an exaggerated glance at his watch and proclaims loudly that he is calling it a night. As much as he likes the ordinary night having a pint or two with a friend to talk about work and West Ham, Bond needs another scene. He refuses the car, catches a taxi, and goes home. Tanner never brings it up or asks him out for another drink and Bond never calls him after that.

 

Bond decides then that he is not going to ask anyone again. It’s silly anyway; it serves no purpose other than that Bond has a desperately selfish need for someone to be there. It might be his age catching up with him, because in the past he’s had no problem being surrounded by strangers. It’s part of the job and he knows that. But now he feels weary and tired in a way he’s never felt before. Every time he disembarks, he sees the joy in people as they are reunited, which makes that exhaustion settle deep into his sinews until he’s heavy with lethargy and regret and nothing else. Families embrace, lovers kiss, children run to their parents, and in the middle of it, there’s Bond with a gun under his arm and a body that is far, far too old for this.

 

But Bond can’t quit because his family is dead and he doesn’t have a lover anymore and he doubts he will ever have children, so there really is nothing for him to do but this.

 


 

 

Bond is on his way to the airport in Singapore when his earpiece crackles to life and a soft voice murmurs his call sign.

 

“007.”

 

“Q,” Bond replies, glancing at his watch. It’s almost 0200 in London. He wonders what his Quartermaster is still doing at Six, especially since the mission has been over for about four hours now. But in the few months that Bond has known Q, he has discovered the other man has a track record of dependability and a habit of keeping long hours. “What do I owe the pleasure?”

 

“Consider this a courtesy call. We’re rerouting you. You’ll be flying back to London through Rome,” Q answers.

 

“That’s out of the way,” Bond says, knowing it could tack at least a few hours onto his overall travel time. “What’s wrong with Kiev?”

 

“You haven’t kept up on the news, have you?”

 

“Been a bit busy, Q.”

 

“The protest is gaining momentum. Intelligence on the ground says there will be an uprising in the near future. Government retaliation might turn violent.”

 

“Sounds like fun,” Bond says.

 

“We’re sending you the alternative route for your safety,” Q replies, ignoring his comment.

 

“My safety,” Bond repeats. He can’t keep the bitterness from his tone.

 

“You are an asset, Bond.”

 

There is something about the way Q says it that makes Bond want to believe him, but old habits die hard.

 

“Right,” Bond says, for lack of anything else to say, and cuts the communication.

 

He has two connecting flights to Rome and then a layover that is supposed to last for an hour and a half, but ends up stretching into three because of the weather. Bond has an itch in the muscles between his shoulder blades and he’s yearning for a soft bed more and more with each passing moment. He’s so very tired and the plastic airport seats are unrelenting. The coffee is surprisingly disappointing, which is by far the worst.

 

Desperate for distraction, Bond removes the earpiece from his pocket and surreptitiously slides it into the attachable case that looks like a Bluetooth headset. He slips it over his right ear and fiddles with his mobile so that it appears he is making a call.

 

“The coffee is shite,” he says.

 

At first, there’s nothing, but then the line goes live and Bond hears something that sounds like the gentle brush of hair over the speaker, then:

 

“Coffee is always shite,” Q replies.

 

“No it isn’t. You’re just too young to appreciate the taste,” Bond tells him. Q snorts. It’s a natural, simple discourse between them that feels natural instead of rehearsed, makes it seem like everything is forgiven.

 

Maybe that’s why Bond can’t help it, because otherwise he isn’t quite sure why he interrupts Q’s explanation about the health benefits of daily tea-drinking to say:

 

“I’ll need a ride.”

 

Q pauses at his words, and Bond can practically hear their conversation shift gears.

 

“Do you want me to arrange a car for you?” Q asks.

 

“I want you to come get me,” Bond says.

 

Q’s line cuts for a moment, much like a hitch of breath in the midst of their transmission. Bond regrets it in that span of sixty seconds, wishing beyond all wishing that he can snatch the words back without having to face the repercussions. But then the silence ends and Q says:

 

“Okay.”

 

He doesn’t ask why or question Bond’s physical or mental health. He doesn’t laugh or judge or jeer. He just says okay like it really is fine that Bond asked, that he doesn’t mind. Bond feels the pain between his shoulders ease somewhat.

 

“Okay.”

 


 

 

It’s sleeting in London when he finally touches down that evening.

 

Bond rubs a hand over his face as they pull into the gate and the fasten seatbelt sign darkens. Almost on cue, everyone rises from their seats to collect their suitcases from the overhead compartments. He wearily joins the masses, thinking about how much he wants a shower and a clean set of clothes and his own bed. Bond shuffles off the plane with the rest of the tired-eyed passengers around him, adjusting the strap of his bag over his shoulder as he walks from the terminal to the baggage claim exit.

 

But before Bond can even make for the doors leading to the passenger drop off and pick up location, he sees Q standing near one of the baggage carousels. As usual, he’s poorly dressed; Bond has an overwhelming urge to take his anorak out into the carpark and put it out of its misery, alongside that hideous pair of plaid trousers. But Q is there and when he sees Bond, something minute shifts in his expression, softening the edges around his eyes and mouth. If Bond didn’t know better, he might say that Q is genuinely happy to see him. Because of that, maybe he can forgive Q’s choice of attire, at least for right now. It also helps that, for what Q lacks in style, he makes up for in gifts; Bond cannot even get a word out before his Quartermaster is thrusting a tall takeaway cup at him.

 

“What’s this?” Bond asks, taking the cup. Even with the cardboard band, his fingers burn with the heat of the beverage.

 

“Poison,” Q replies, expression deadpan.

 

“Thoughtful,” Bond says.

 

“And don’t forget it,” Q tells him.

 

Bond takes a whiff. It’s dark roast coffee with a dash of cream. When he tastes it, there is the small, but appropriate amount of sugar. He wonders how Q knew, but he supposes knowing is his Quartermaster’s job.

 

“Thank you,” Bond says, and means it.

 

“You’re welcome,” Q says. He’s not really smiling, but Bond has heard that tone over the comms before and knows that he is, in his own way.

 

“Shall we?” Bond asks, and Q nods before turning to lead. There is no car idling outside at the kerb to wait for them. Instead, they take the skywalk to an elevator that leads them to the parking garage. The night air is cold and damp. Bond clutches onto his coffee as they walk down the rows of neatly parked vehicles. Q fishes out a fob from his pocket and presses a button. Bond hears the far-off honk of his car in the corner of the garage nearest the exit. When they arrive, Bond lays eyes on a tiny blue compact; the headlights are already on and the engine is running.

 

“You drive a Prius,” Bond says, not asks.

 

“It’s fuel efficient,” Q replies.

 

“It’s a Prius,” Bond says.

 

“If you’re that jealous, I can outfit one for your next mission. They come in bubblegum pink now,” Q says, and Bond quiets immediately. Q might look like he’s halfway to starving, but Bond knows he’s no pushover and that he can make good on his threats. Bond recalls 004’s miserable luck after first meeting Q and regarding him poorly; the Double-Oh’s flights were late, delayed, or never showed up at all, credit cards never authenticated, and the only available vehicle in the region on one mission had been a poorly constructed American brand that wouldn’t shift above second.

 

Bond moves around the small vehicle and throws his bag into the back seat before sliding into the passenger side, coffee still in hand. The interior is warm and smells like mints and cigarettes. There is a Tardis ornament hanging from the rearview mirror. As Q gets behind the wheel and closes his door, Bond taps at it and watches it spin.

 

“Let me guess. It’s bigger on the inside,” Bond says.

 

“You know your Doctor Who,” Q answers, with something like surprise.

 

“I’m not completely uncultured,” Bond replies.

 

“You could have fooled me,” Q grins.

 

Bond doesn’t rise to it, waiting in anticipation for the inevitable conversation, lecture, unofficial debrief, but it never comes. Q pulls out of the space and drives for the exit. He pays his ticket and follows the slick drive to the main road. Bond drinks his coffee and focuses on the way the headlights turn the sleet into streaks of white in front of the windscreen. The tension is easing out of him by inches, and the ache that is usually there is replaced by something soft and warm. The silence is soothing, punctuated only by the rhythmic sweep of blades across glass and the murmured sound of something playing almost inaudibly from the radio. In response to the tranquil atmosphere, Bond feels himself slipping into a quiet headspace. He is just aware enough to know that Q is there and present and breathing beside him--that he is not alone, that he is safe--and that Q’s presence doesn’t equate expectation. Bond can just be, for the first time in a long time.  

 

It seems that only one span of a breath passes, but Bond knows that he is mistaken, that he has somehow lost time. He knows because in one moment, they are leaving the airport proper and the next, they are pulling onto the street of Bond’s flat. The clock on the dashboard says that it is half past ten. The last time Bond experienced such a lapse had been after Skyfall, when he had been heavily sedated for two days. Bond sits up straighter in his seat, moving slowly so not to let his disorientation show, because he doesn’t let his guard down like that--it’s too dangerous in his line of work--and if Q notices, he doesn’t say anything.

 

“Is this the right one?” Q asks, tilting his head to regard the identical facades of the buildings beyond the window.

 

“Yeah,” Bond says. “It’s not too far out of your way?”

 

That is the closest he can get to asking if he had inconvenienced Q with his request.

 

“No, you’re on my way,” Q replies. He is looking at Bond, and in the half-light his eyes are soft and dark, but not expectant. Bond looks at Q’s lips, then quickly looks away. He blames it on the hour, his disorientation, Q’s kindness. It’s nothing else but that.

 

“Good,” Bond eventually says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. For the first time in a long time, Bond feels a creeping sensation of awkwardness. Q agreed to drive him, but didn’t ask for anything. Normal people didn’t do that because normal people wanted things. But Q does not seem to be normal; he never had, actually, ever since their first meeting. Bond isn’t sure what it means, but he does like that Q doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence with empty conversation.

 

“You should get some sleep,” Q tells him. He pauses a moment and reaches beneath his seat to extricate something, which he holds out to Bond. It’s a compact umbrella. “Here, take this. It’s my spare.”

 

Bond looks at Q, then the umbrella. Q sighs and takes the cold cup of coffee out of Bond’s hand and replaces it with the umbrella.

 

“So you don’t get wet,” Q elaborates, as if Bond is a child. When Bond accepts it, their fingers brush as Q pulls away.

 

“Thank you,” he says, before stepping out of the car. He puts the umbrella up against the wind, then grabs his bag out of the back seat. Q rolls down the window just as Bond is shutting the rear door.

 

“Good night, 007,” he says.

 

“Good night, Q,” Bond replies.

 

The window rolls up and Q pulls away. Bond stands on the pavement and watches his tail lights disappear into the distance.

 

The night is cold and dark and wet, but Bond can still feel the warmth of Q’s fingertips lingering on his skin.

 


 

 

He wakes at noon the following day, refreshed, not hungover, and ready to debrief.

 

Usually, Bond finds it a struggle to do this after an assignment. The combination of fading adrenalin and travel exhaustion leaves him sluggish, often intensified by the remnants of drink from the night prior and the still-healing injuries to his ageing body. It sometimes takes hours for Bond to be able to dress and confidently smirk and swagger like normal. He sometimes has to practice in the flat before he goes out, like stepping into a part. Taking on a mission, going to MI6: both require a role he must play.

 

But today, Bond finds he has enough energy to not force the motions. He showers and shaves and slides into a crisp, clean suit. He even takes a late breakfast, which he usually cannot stomach after long air travel. After some debate, Bond decides to take the Jag into work instead of calling for a driver. It will never be his Aston, but does the job of getting him from point A to point B while he's in London, even if it only rarely leaves the underground garage beneath his building. The seats are still stiff and it has a distinct new-car smell to it, all smooth leather and polished chrome. It's nothing like the well-lived, deep-scented blend of mint and cigarettes that pervades Q’s vehicle. But somehow, Bond thinks he liked it more than he wants to admit, and pointedly does not revisit that train of thought on the way to Six.

 

Before making his way to see Mallory, Bond stops at Q-Branch. It is late enough that most of the floor has cleared out for lunch. There are a few stragglers here and there, and of course, Q at his plinth as usual. He is focussed on his screen, seemingly unaware of Bond’s approach. But when Bond is within an arm’s reach of him, Q speaks:

 

“Good afternoon, 007.”

 

“Q,” Bond greets him in return. Q looks away from his computer to assess him for a moment, a deliberate, once-up-then-down glance that might have meant something if it wasn’t coming from Q.

 

“It’s good to have you back in one piece,” Q says, then returns to his work and continues: “I do hope my equipment has returned in the same way.”

 

“What do you take me for, Q?” Bond asks.

 

“Someone who wrecks my equipment,” Q replies.

 

Bond knows this conversation; it’s a variation of one that they have almost every time he returns from fieldwork. Q is not treating him any differently than before. What happened last night is completely separate from today. Q is telling him your secret is safe with me and Bond believes him, even in the world of espionage, where trust can get you killed. And it’s all because Q is Q, who trusts in him and who Bond trusts in return.

 

“You wound me,” Bond says.

 

“I intend to if you’ve damaged anything,” Q replies, and pauses from typing to slide a tray in Bond’s direction. The agent removes his Walther from the strap under his arm, drops the clip, and empties the chamber. He places it onto the mat, followed swiftly by his pristine earwig and a slightly burnt radio transmitter.

 

Q glances at the assortment of items.

 

“I suppose that’s better than nothing,” he says, sounding unimpressed.

 

Bond is about to say something smart in reply, but he does not. Instead, he places a final item down onto the desk beside the tray. It is the small travel umbrella that Q had give him the night before.

 

Q stops what he’s doing, fingers hovering over the keys as he looks at it, then at Bond.

 

“I’ll take more care next time,” Bond tells him, and Q isn’t smiling with his mouth as much as he is with his voice when he replies:

 

“Promises, promises.”

 


 

The next two missions are back-to-back, and Bond ends up taking an extraction helicopter back to London from Lyons so that he can be tended to by Medical. He’s fuzzy with pain medication and aching with wounded pride afterward when forced on mandatory two week leave. But once he’s fighting fit, he is sent out again to another corner of the world with nothing but a manila folder and a premade kit that holds a gun, a tablet, and an earpiece. He spends the next seventeen days in South Korea before he finishes the job and is on his way back home.

 

He gets stuck trying fly out of Seoul because of a technical error with the plane’s navigation equipment, so he spends the night on an airport floor, first in line for standby. Q is with him, a soft whisper of breath and movement on the other end of the comms.

 

“What are you doing?” Bond asks, when he’s sick to death of the silence only punctuated by PA announcements and crying children.

 

“Crossword puzzle,” Q answers.

 

“Oh?”


“You sound surprised.”

 

“I pegged you for Sudoku.”

 

“Sudoku is too easy,” Q replies. Bond strains his ears over the murmuring passengers in seats and on the floor around him. Q is tapping something lightly, like a pen against the edge of a desk, perhaps against his lips. The fantasy of those said lips comes to mind and is strikingly vivid: soft, tasting like mint and cigarettes, red and kiss-bruised and swollen. Bond clears his throat in an attempt to keep his thoughts from wandering into inappropriate territory. It’s just been too long since he’s been with someone because he wanted to and not because of work. And Q’s the only soul that’s treated him like a human being in such a long time that he’s projecting where he shouldn’t.

 

“So what’s got you stumped?” Bond asks, his voice lower than before. The tapping stops, as if Q notices, but then it picks up again and he doesn’t comment.

 

“Not stumped,” Q says.

 

“You’re tapping,” Bond says.

 

“You’re distracting.”

 

“Can’t think?”

 

“Not with you talking.”

 

“And here I thought you missed me while I was away.”

 

The tapping stops again and there’s the shift of paper.

 

“Fifteen down. Starts with a, ends in e. Ten letters. Hint is listening to sounds produced by the human body,” Q reads to him.

 

“Auscultate,” Bond says.

 

Silence on the other end.

 

“Auscultate,” Q repeats.

 

“Auscultate. Look it up,” Bond says, and waits as he hears Q clicking away on his computer.

 

“Well colour me surprised,” Q says.

 

“Colour me surprised, too. Does MI6 know you play word games on the clock?” Bond asks.

 

“I’m not on the clock,” Q answers.

 

“You’re not on the clock,” Bond repeats.

 

“No, I’m at home,” Q replies. Bond imagines Q sprawled out in bed. He is wearing ridiculous pyjamas and drinking Earl Grey while he does his crossword puzzle. His feet are bare and he’s not wearing glasses. Maybe he’s smiling, just a bit, as he fills letters into small boxes. Somehow, the picture is endearing, even if it’s entirely in Bond’s imagination.

 

“Why are you still online?” Bond asks.

 

“You might need me,” Q says, like it’s the most logical thing in the world

 

“Q, I’m grounded for at least another few hours,” he replies, round the thing in his throat that hurts at Q’s words. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“You might need me,” Q says again.

 

For once, Bond is not quite sure what to say.

 

“Two across. Second letter v. Six letters. The clue is the name of a shorebird with an upturned beak,” Q says.

 

“Avocet,” Bond answers. He listens to the sound of Q’s pen scratching on the page of his crossword.

 

“Well, aren’t you just remarkable,” Q says.

 

“I have a lot of down time,” Bond answers, and runs a hand tiredly over his face. He’s exhausted and his back is starting to hurt, but being horizontal is much better than sitting upright in one of the uncomfortable chairs. He shifts his head a bit on the carry on bag that is currently serving as a pillow.

 

“So, crossword puzzles,” Q concludes, and Bond hums in the affirmative. “Do you like Scrabble?”

 

“No,” Bond answers. “You can’t play it alone.”

 

There’s a beat, like Q doesn’t know what to say, but then he comes in with:

 

“There’s an app. For Scrabble. Well, something like it. You can play with people virtually. I could put it on your mobile, if you wanted.”

 

“I’m not too old to find it in the app store myself,” Bond laughs, honest to God laughs, and it might be from less than four hours of sleep in the past two days, but it might be something else, too. Q huffs out something like a laugh in his ear, and Bond realises then that he’s never heard that sound from the other man before. It’s intimate somehow, like they are lying next to one another in the same bed and sharing the same space and breath and everything. It’s terrifying how much Bond wants it in that moment: a soft mattress in London with Q in his pyjamas and crossword puzzle and his dark eyes and red lips. Once again, Bond blames it on tiredness, on not having a lover in so long, because Q is Q and nothing more than that.

 

“Bond,” Q says quietly, his voice soft, as if he thought Bond had fallen asleep and does not want to wake him.

 

“What time will my flight be in?” Bond asks. He listens as Q shifts a few things over the line.

 

“If all goes well, at 0700 GMT, on the third,” Q replies.

 

Bond makes a thoughtful sound.

 

“Traffic’s bad that time of morning,” he says.

 

“Yes,” Q replies.

 

“It’ll cost a fortune to catch a cab,” Bond continues.

 

“It will,” Q concedes.

 

Bond stops there, because he feels weak asking, even though he wants to. Q must sense this, because Bond hears him sigh gently, as if he’s giving in despite his better judgment.

 

“I’ll bring you coffee,” he says.

 

“And breakfast?”

 

“Don’t push your luck.”

 


 

 

After a total of thirty-two hours of travel, Bond is finally back on English soil. His suit is rumpled from the flight and his eyes itch with tiredness. But he’s not so far gone that he doesn’t see Q standing on the other side of the gate. The other man looks like he’s just rolled out of bed, his hair tousled and slightly damp, either from the rain or a recent shower. He’s got a sleepy-eyed look to him that borders on grumpy, much like a cat who had been woken from a pleasant nap. He yawns as Bond approaches and holds out a cup and a white pastry bag in greeting.

 

“Breakfast,” Q says, as Bond fiddles with the bag. There are at least a dozen serviettes and, at the bottom, a monstrous cheese Danish, still slightly warm. “Come on. Let’s try to beat traffic.”

 

Despite their attempts to avoid the morning commute, they become stuck in the middle of it. The A4 is backed up as far as the eye can see. Bond takes that as his opportunity to tuck into his Danish. Q taps on the steering wheel. The radio is on, but it is so low that Bond cannot tell if he is tapping along with the beat or fidgeting. The silence is comfortable between them, something that Bond is still not used to, but finds comforting nonetheless.

 

They are crawling down a portion of the M4 when Q reaches into the middle console and fiddles with a tin of mints. Bond sees that his hand is shaking. He’s no mathematician, but Bond can put two and two together.

 

“You’re trying to quit smoking,” Bond says.

 

Q audibly bites into the mint.

 

Trying is the key word,” he answers round the munching.

 

Bond rolls up the empty pastry bag and puts it into the unoccupied cup holder. Q gives him a look and crunches the last bit of his mint.

 

“You can have one if you want,” Bond tells him. Q’s fingers twitch on the wheel and begin tapping again.

 

“Enabler,” Q says.

 

Bond laughs.

 

“I had one on the way over,” Q tells him. “I’m trying to get down to only one or two a day.”

 

“I won’t tell,” Bond says.

 

Q glances at him quickly, as if nervous, then looks back out through the windscreen pointedly. It only takes thirty seconds for him to crack, and then Q is leaning across Bond to open the glove compartment. They are close enough that Bond feels Q’s body heat, picks up the contrasting scents of sweet shampoo and ashy smoke.

 

“It’s only because it’s going to be a long day,” Q says aloud, as if to justify his decision. He packs the container against his upper thigh before flipping open the lid. With what is definitely years of practice, Q extracts a cigarette between his fingers and brings it immediately to his lips. He digs a Clipper from the console and lights the end. Bond watches as he takes the first drag, thinking that Q’s expression of pure pleasure borders on obscene. Q exhales with a sigh, filling the cab with smoke.

 

“Ah, sorry…” Q mumbles, rolling down his window a crack so that they can breathe easier. The silence that follows is just as comfortable as before, but strangely, it’s not what Bond wants.

 

“You don’t seem the type,” Bond ventures.

 

“Smoking?” Q asks.

 

“Bad habits,” Bond says, and Q grins as he flicks a bit of ash out the window. It’s strange how, out of the lab, Q can look so playful, but when at work he seems so untouchable.

 

“You don’t know me very well,” Q replies.

 

“I don’t,” Bond says.

 

Q pauses for only a beat.

 

“What do you want to know?” he asks, with a nonchalance that’s forced and slightly guarded.

 

Bond thinks about all the things he wants to ask why do I trust you and know nothing about you, why are you the only one who knows just what I need, how do you know just how I like my coffee, how can you work for MI6 and be so kind, what do you taste like, why do I want to kiss you to find out?

 

Instead, he asks:

 

“Did you know they make patches for that?” Bond asks, indicating the cigarette in Q’s fingers.

 

“I know,” Q says, and slides up the sleeve of his coat. There are two circular nicotine appliques on his forearm.

 

“You’re only supposed to use one at a time.”

 

“Normal people do. Considering the level of stress I encounter on a daily basis, I believe the recommended dosage to be more of a guideline.”

 

“That can’t be healthy.”

 

“Smoking isn’t either.”

 

“You’re right, it’s going to kill you one day,” Bond says.

 

“Everything’s going to kill us one day, didn’t you know?” Q replies, and his smile is just a bit jaded.

 

Bond looks at Q, watches him smoke until there’s nothing left but the stump of a cigarette, which he flicks out the window into the rain.

 

“Yeah,” Bond says, looking straight ahead. “I know.”

 

They don’t say anything else for the rest of the ride, but it’s not strained or awkward or uncomfortable. It’s just the two of them occupying the same space, trapped in their own thoughts. But when Q pulls up and throws on the emergency flashers just outside of Bond’s flat, the silence breaks.

 

“Do you want to come up?” Bond asks.

 

“For what?” Q asks. His eyes are very green, sharp and focussed in a way that’s not quite predatory, but something else that Bond cannot quite name. It makes his mouth a little dry.

 

“For coffee,” Bond says. Q’s eyes flick down to the carry away cup in the holder next to Bond and then back to his face.

 

“I don’t drink coffee,” Q says, but with a carefulness that is deliberate.

 

“Tea?” Bond offers.

 

For a moment, it seems like Q will accept, but not for the tea, for something else, or at least the possibility of something else. Bond balances on the edge of those sixty seconds, unsure exactly what he wants from the encounter himself. But then Q’s lips part in a breath and Bond knows exactly what he wants, and the thought is not as terrifying as he might have imagined.

 

“I’ve got to go to work,” Q says weakly.

 

“Work,” Bond says, hoping the disappointment steers clear from his voice.

 

“I know the concept is a little hard for you to understand, but do try to keep up,” Q replies, with a tone that’s slightly off, not quite as barbed as his usual brand of banter.

 

“You’ve certainly got a mouth on you,” Bond says.

 

“Yes, I’ve been told I’m very talented in that regard,” Q replies.

 

Bond can’t help but gape for a half second at Q’s words. Q lets him have the thirty seconds, waiting expectantly for the response with a raised eyebrow.

 

“You’re impertinent.”

 

"Is that the best you can come up with?” Q shoots back; Bond can tell he’s trying not to smile.

 

“You’re smiling,” Bond says.

 

“I’m late,” he says. “Get out.”

 

Bond does, but leans in through the open window.

 

“So should I take a rain check on that tea?” he asks.

 

The playfulness in Q disappears. Then he smiles at Bond like it hurts as he puts the car into gear.

 

“I’ll see you later, 007,” he says, a clear dismissal, and then he drives away. Bond stands on the pavement and watches him leave, much like he did after the first night, and wonders what would have happened if Q had accepted.

 


 

After that, Bond stops asking. He thinks that it is better that he doesn’t, because it will save the working relationship between he and Q if they stop seeing each other outside of a professional context. That is why Bond is surprised when he steps off the plane from Tokyo and sees Q, because he hadn’t called; he is no longer Q’s responsibility.

 

But Q is waiting. He is looking down at his mobile and texting, but he is there waiting. He has a windcheater folded over his arm.

 

“You’re here,” Bond says.

 

“Yes,” Q replies.

 

“I didn’t call,” Bond explains.

 

“You didn’t have to,” Q says, and hands over the windcheater before Bond can say anything else. “You’ll need this. It’s gusty.”

 

“It’s mauve,” Bond grouses.

 

Q grins.

 

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

 


 

After each assignment, Bond finds Q at the gate every time. He begins looking for Q even before he’s through, feeling a clawing anxiety every time he does not see the other man right away, only to have it replaced with a happy sort of relief when he finally does land eyes on the Quartermaster. Sometimes, Q smiles when he sees him--just a quirk of his mouth, just in the span of a blink of an eye--and those are the best homecoming welcomes.

 

Bond has come to depend on it--seeing Q the moment he’s back on English soil--so much that he cannot bear the day he will arrive and Q will not be there. That is why, when his flight is late by at least an hour, Bond worries that Q will have left. It’s so late that he can’t imagine Q would have stayed and Bond doesn’t begrudge him for going home, especially after the long stretch of a mission they’ve both had. But just as he comes to their usual meeting point, Bond spots him sitting in a nearby cluster of chairs. He has a tablet in his hands and is reading with the sort of rapt concentration Bond has only seen out of him at work, which is impressive for nearly one in the morning.

 

Bond creeps behind him and looks over his shoulder, wondering if he can get a rise out of the other man as he asks:

 

“What are you reading?”

 

Q does not even flinch, flicking his finger over the screen to move to the next page.

 

“A book about the emergence of modern typography,” he says.

 

Bond leans closer. He smells Q’s shampoo as he nearly brushes an errant curl with his cheek. Q, seemingly unperturbed by his presence, turns the screen toward him so that he can see the page. There is a block of regular text and then images of illuminated manuscripts and their unique font.

 

“Typography,” Bond says. He’s still a bit tired from the journey and isn’t sure he understands. Why would a tech geek be so interested in such a thing?

 

“Yes. Hand presses, like the printing press, that sort of thing,” Q explains.

 

“Oh,” Bond says. “It doesn’t seem like something you’d know about.”

 

“It’s not. That’s why I’m reading about it.”

 

There is something about the way Q says it that makes Bond's heart skip three beats. Intelligent people have always been his weakness, the ones who are blindingly brilliant and still want to learn beyond the scope of their existent knowledge. They are always pursuing something interesting, something new, just because of the simple fact that it exists, believing ardently that everything is worth learning. And there’s something so beautifully irresistible about that kind of passion. So much so that Bond can’t help but be attracted, entranced, overwhelmed by them. By Q.

 

“What?” Q asks, looking at him.

 

Bond realises about five seconds too late that he’s been looking at Q and smiling. By that point, it's too late to stop, so he doesn't.

 

“Nothing,” he says, and Q smiles, too.

 


 

Bond is in Morocco and having a drink at the outdoor hotel bar when he catches the distinct scent of Q’s cigarettes. A dark haired woman walks by with the fag in her hand, on her way to a cluster of empty lounge chairs near the pool. Bond sees no harm in it, so he gets up and follows her. They have a nice--albeit boring--round of conversation. She offers him a cigarette halfway through, and Bond politely accepts. It’s a menthol, Bond should have guessed; it explains why Q chews mints to combat his cravings.

 

She makes eyes at him and touches him when she can and positions her body in the way that says she’d like to sleep with him. Again, Bond sees no harm in it. It’s not really for work or pleasure, but he takes her to bed. He doesn’t know her name and doesn’t care to, because when he kisses her, he’s too busy trying not to think about Q and what he tastes like. Her mouth is soft and pliant and she tastes sweet, like pineapples and liqueur. It should be pleasant, but Bond does not find it arousing. Still, he’s a gentleman, and so he goes down on her and brings her off, but then politely refuses her offer of reciprocity.  

 

On his way out of her room, he steals her cigarettes.

 

He’s got other things to do that afternoon, but when he’s alone later that night, he pours himself a drink and sits at the edge of the bed and lights one. He wonders if he’s infatuated with Q because of the circumstances, because Q is the only one who has treated him kindly in years. Eve tried, and even though there’s no hard feelings about the whole take-the-bloody-shot business, Bond still feels a barrier between them that keeps them on one side of just friends. Tanner tried, too, but the years have driven a wedge between them and Bill’s more concerned with things that Bond tries hard to avoid, so they have very little to talk about, and less and less in common. Everyone else Bond might have turned to is dead or doesn’t exist.

 

So Q’s really the only one who understands what it’s like. He’s the one who designs the weapons and gathers the intelligence and guides missions from across oceans. He’s the one who will push all physical limits to be available for an agent, for Bond, even if that means taking his work home with him because you might need me. He’s the one that always brings Bond home.

 

Is it fair, then? To want him? Even if it is only for just one night?

 

Especially if it is just for one night?

 

He thinks about Q’s lips and his long fingers and those green, green eyes. He thinks about what he would have done if Q would have accepted to come up for tea. Bond knows that he would have taken Q up to his flat and kissed him until his lips were red and bruised. He would have pinned Q to the wall and wrecked his hair with his hands and pressed their bodies together in such ways that Q would be digging his short nails into Bond’s back. He would have waited until Q pulled back from him, until his dark pupils overtook all remnants of green, until Q’s voice broke as he-

 

Cigarette ash crumples onto his skin and burns in his hand.

 

Bond shakes it off and snubs the end out on the bedside table. His little fantasy has left him hard. A beautiful woman had just had him in her bed not even a few hours ago and Bond could not manage an erection, yet a passing thought about another man has made him ache. Bond scrubs a hand over his face and thinks, no, he’s not going to consider Q to be anything more than a friend.

 

He lies back in bed and breathes in the lingering trace of smoke. When he closes his eyes, he tastes Q on his lips, on his tongue, and moves his hands to the flies of his trousers.

 

He lets himself indulge, just this once.

 


 

Bond doesn’t expect to see Q when he disembarks in London a week later. Even though he stopped asking Q to come to the airport, they usually spoke when he was between flights, even if it was just a few messages over SMS in between their games of Scrabble. But this time, Bond remained pointedly offline so that he had no communication with the other man. He had been worried about saying something he might regret, so while waiting for his connecting flight he had hid in one of the smoking sections and finished off the pack of cigarettes. He didn’t even have a taste for them, but they reminded him of Q, and smoking was safe whereas everything else was not. But then he sees Q standing by the exit and feels that want surge back to him.

 

“Need a ride?” Q asks.

 

“Always,” Bond says.

 

They don’t say anything on the way to the car, but Bond looks at him and Q looks back. Once or twice, they catch each other staring and look away. It’s only once they’re in the lift leading to the garage that they speak, and Q is the one who leads.

 

“You’ve been smoking,” he says.

 

“I have,” Bond replies. Q leans in his direction, close enough that the sleeve of his anorak brushes Bond’s jacket. He smells strongly of mint.

 

“It’s my brand,” he says, and tilts his head just a bit so he’s looking up through his lashes. They’re long and dark and very pretty.

 

“I thought they smelt familiar,” Bond answers. Q straightens, pulling out of Bond’s personal space, taking the sweet, fresh scent with him.

 

“Do you miss me when you’re away?” Q asks, and he’s teasing with Bond’s own words, bantering, not asking honestly at all. And it’s not really anger that makes him crowd Q into the corner of the lift, but something else that drives Bond to desire that closeness, to finally break down the walls of propriety between them. They’re not touching, but are close enough that they can if they want to, close enough that Bond feels the tremble move through Q’s body at their proximity.

 

“Yes,” Bond says. He sees Q swallow, a gentle bob of his Adam’s apple, and Bond wants to follow it with his tongue. Fortunately, the lift shudders to a halt, waking Bond from his trance. He moves back just before the doors open, where a few people are waiting politely with their bags for them to exit the compartment. Q goes first and Bond follows. The back of his neck and ears are slightly red.

 

The biting cold takes off some of the edge, which helps Bond think a bit more clearly. He wants to say something, but can think of nothing. That is, until he’s about ready to get into the passenger seat and sees the bag on the floor. The entire car smells of Chinese food.

 

“You brought me dinner?” Bond asks, as he takes up the bag and puts it on his lap for the ride. It’s still warm. Bond’s stomach growls in response.

 

“You need to eat,” Q tells him, as he pulls out of the garage to pay the fee.

 

“You’re one to talk,” Bond replies, pointedly casting a glance at Q’s slight frame that’s a little more appreciatory than anything else.

 

“I have a fast metabolism.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat before.”

 

“That’s because I only feed on the night of the full moon.”

 

Bond stares. Q laughs. It’s the first time Bond’s ever heard him laugh.

 

“It’s a joke, Bond. Haven’t you ever heard one before?” Q asks.

 

“Not from you,” Bond answers.

 

“I can be funny,” Q says.

 

“I didn’t think you had it in you,” Bond replies.

 

“Hush, eat your dinner,” Q tells him, and Bond politely refuses on the basis that he doesn’t believe in eating while in a moving vehicle. They go back and forth on the issue until suddenly, they are outside of Bond’s flat.

 

“Do you want to come up and help me with this?” Bond asks, indicating the carry away. It’s slightly cold by now, but probably still edible.

 

“I think you can handle it yourself,” Q replies.

 

“I could,” Bond says, “but I wouldn’t mind company.”

 

Q looks at him and it makes Bond think of the first night Q drove him home and looked at him the same way, with the same something that made Q smile sometimes like it hurt.

 

“Don’t,” Q says. He’s not teasing or laughing or sarcastic. If anything, he sounds a little defeated.

 

“Don’t what?” Bond asks.

 

“Don’t do this,” Q elaborates.

 

“What?”

 

“You know.”

 

Bond does. He remembers watching Q swallow in the lift, how he wanted to trace that ridge with his tongue; how dark Q’s eyes had gone with how much he wanted Bond to do that to him.

 

“Why?” Bond asks.

 

“Because,” Q says.

 

“That’s not a reason.”

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“No, it’s not.”

 

Bond leans over the gear shift and console until he’s practically nose-to-nose with Q. So close, Bond sees Q’s eyes go soft and impossibly dark. He takes that moment to move forward, but Q turns his head to the side so that Bond misses his mark, kissing at the corner of Q’s mouth.

 

“We can’t,” Q murmurs, and his lips brush Bond’s momentarily as he pulls away.

 

“Please,” Bond says, before he even realises that he’s following Q’s lips, that he’s begging. Q presses his palm against Bond’s chest and gives him a gentle nudge to move back, to push him away.

 

“Good night, 007,” Q says, with rejection in his voice and remorse in his eyes.

 

“Good night, Q,” Bond says, and gets his things.

 

He watches Q drive away, then climbs the stairs to his flat. He drops his bag at the door, bins the food, and falls into bed fully clothed. It's not disappointment, Bond tells himself, his mouth hot with regret, lips still tingling where Q's had brushed his. The ashy bitterness of too many cigarettes lingers at the back of his throat, reminding him all too much of the man who looked at him like he wanted him, but still pushed him away.

 

Bond buries his head into the pillow and wishes he could scrub the taste of Q from his tongue.

 


 

Bond doesn’t get down to Q-Branch much anyway, but after that night, he finds more reasons not to go.

He takes a mission in Greece and keeps up only minimal contact for the duration of the assignment. Talking to Q shouldn’t hurt, but it does, and so Bond keeps the comms open only when he has to. Because of it, the whole assignment ends worse than what Bond anticipates. Not only does the intel burn up in a rather fantastic explosion, but he is then punched out of a fleeing helicopter, which sends him plummeting into the Mediterranean Sea. The drop isn’t far enough to kill or seriously injure him, but enough to jar his bones and hurt his pride. It takes him a long time to swim to shore, even longer to escape the police and press unnoticed. He doesn’t check in with Six--because he really isn’t ready for that abuse on top of everything else--when he returns to his hotel room to drink until the pain goes away.

 

The next morning, he wakes up on the bathroom floor in his still-damp clothes, shivering and hurting more than he can ever remember. When he sits up, his body violently opposes the motion and a pain lances through his bad shoulder with such intensity that Bond’s vision goes dark at the edges. When the pain recedes, his stomach clenches and Bond vomits weakly over the edge of the tub. It smells like alcohol and bile and blood.

 

He knows he’s bad off, but isn’t about to call anyone. With agonising slowness, he strips and bathes, then redresses. He leaves the ruined clothes on the bathroom floor. When he checks his mobile for his flight information, he ignores the messages waiting en masse in his inbox and voicemail. He gets the information, calls a cab, and goes to the airport. Because he’s lost his gun and most of his equipment, he doesn’t have to submit to any background checks or other security investigations. The line moves quickly. He doesn’t remember boarding the plane, but he’s in first class when comes to. The night sky beyond the window is dark indigo, endless, serene.

 

The riotous sounds and memories in his mind quiet. There is no Venice or Skyfall or MI6. There are no terrorists or slave traders or politicians. There is no fighting, there are no guns; there is just an infinite stretch of sky and silence and peace. He thinks, if there was any a good time to go, it would be now.

 

Bond closes his eyes and wills himself to disappear.

 


 


 


 

 

Instead, he dreams about Q.

 


 


 


 

  

The flight passes in a blur. At times, everything is clear--colours, patterns, the sound of the in flight movie--but then there are chunks of time missing in between all of it, where Bond finds himself sitting with Q in the car just outside of his flat and Q’s eyes are dark and wanting and Bond says tea and Q says yes. Then the plane shakes a bit and he’s back to staring at his own reflection in the window glass, tasting ash on his tongue. He feels like he’s underwater even at over 40,000 feet. It’s like drowning slowly and he wonders if he’s still floating somewhere in the Mediterranean, dreaming, dying, dead.

 

By the time the wheels touch down at Heathrow, Bond feels out of his head, like he is watching himself go through the motions from some other plane of existence. But then the cabin depressurises and the doors open and Bond comes back to himself. The pain is the most apparent--a dull ache on each exhale, a sharp burn on each inhale--followed closely by the weakness in his legs and arms and an incessant pounding in his head. He tries to distance himself from it the best he can, to compartmentalise everything, but even still, it takes all he has to walk and breathe and not just stop.  

 

And then he sees Q.

 

At first, he thinks that he imagines him, that his image is the result of a hallucination brought on by pain and barely any sleep. But then Q cuts through the crowd, the mass of bodies and noise and movement around them. He’s there and his eyes are green and Bond is drowning in him, in Q. Bond doesn’t know what to do or think or say. He’s exhausted to the point where he just can’t anymore. His bag slides down his arm and to the ground, falling with a heavy thump at his feet. Before Bond can think about what he’s doing, he’s leaning forward, until his forehead comes to rest at the junction between Q’s neck and shoulder. He presses his cheek against Q’s throat so that he can feel his warmth, the flutter of a pulse. Q smells like tobacco and tea and mint and rain and Bond wants to wrap himself in the other man and sleep forever.

 

Tentative hands move over him: one lightly smoothing along the line of his shoulder to rest at the centre of his back; the other slides up his neck to cradle the back of his head. Long fingers card through his hair with a tenderness and care that makes him want to cry.

 

He doesn’t know how long they stand there or how, when he comes back to himself, he’s in the passenger seat of Q’s car and they are pulling up to an empty parking space a few buildings away from his flat. Bond wants to say that he’s fine from there, that he’ll see Q in a few days once he’s pulled himself out of this state of mind, but the words are cement in his mouth and he can’t utter a syllable. Q doesn’t say anything either, but he gets out of the car and comes round to Bond’s side. In silence, Q releases his seatbelt and guides him out of the vehicle toward the appropriate building. Q’s hand in his is an anchor, something strong and steadfast and safe. Bond lets him lead, focussed more on putting one foot in front of the other.

 

He barely sees the things in front of him, but is aware enough to make associations. A lift, a familiar hallway. A door opens. He recognises the grain of hardwood beneath his feet as the foyer floor in his flat. It smells like disuse and sterile cleaner. Warm fingertips touch his wrist and press lightly; Bond follows their unspoken command, walking in Q’s footsteps until they stop, until Q eases him down to sit on the edge of a bed. His bed. It’s soft. Bond feels his lids grow heavy.

 

Deft fingers loosen and remove his tie, his watch, the cufflinks at his wrists. They slide the jacket and empty double holsters from his drooping shoulders, then undo the buttons of his shirt. The room is cold, but Bond only shivers when the fingers skip lightly over the bruises and breaks in his skin. The hand withdraws and Bond follows with his eyes, until he is looking at Q, who is kneeling on the floor between his legs. It might have been sexual in any other situation but this one, because Q is not touching him like a lover and Bond feels no lust for him, only gratitude. Q removes Bond shoes and socks, then his belt, before having him lie down on the bed. The moment Bond is horizontal, he sighs all the way down to his bones.

 

“You just live to make me worry, don’t you?”

 

Q’s voice is soft, like his touch on Bond’s hips as he unbuckles his belt and slides it through the loops of his trousers. The trousers go next, and Bond knows he should feel something--embarrassment, arousal, something--but there’s nothing but weariness that is only comforted by the crisp ripple of a sheet over his skin, followed by the heavy warmth of the duvet.

 

“You’ll be alright,” Q tells him, and Bond wants to believe it.

 

He wants to believe it so that he doesn’t disappear into that vast, empty nothingness. Not now. Not when Q is finally here. 

 

The fingers trace his cheek, touch his hair, and he’s rooted in these physical gestures of affection, even if only for a moment. Then he feels Q draw away, hears him switch the bedside lamp off so that the ceiling above him is endless dark grey.

 

“Stay,” Bond says into the void. It’s the first word he’s been able to say in hours.

 

The hand comes back, sweeping fingers through his short hair. Then there’s the slight shift of the mattress as Q sits next to him.

 

“Just until you fall asleep,” the dark answers.

 

“Stay,” Bond says again, closing his eyes, “until I wake up.”

 

Soft lips brush against his temple.

 

“Okay.”

 

And Bond sleeps.

 


 

He wakes the following day to the sound of the front door closing with a quiet click.

 

Bond listens to the silence for some time before opening his eyes. He is on his side facing the window. It is raining. He can hear it against the sill. The sheets beside him are slightly rumpled, as if someone had just been beside him. When Bond lays his hand on them, he finds the fabric is still warm.

 

 


 

Q doesn’t say anything about it. Neither does Bond.

 

But sometimes Bond sees him looking, and he looks too, but that’s all.