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How to Find Their Weakspots

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There was something wretchedly unfair about surviving final exams and finally starting to relax, only to realize that you’d let your guard down to be struck a hard one right across the face.  Q stared at his grades on his laptop screen, and felt the bottom drop out of his stomach even as the phantom-pain of that unexpected blow radiated through him.  

He was at Bond and Trevelyan’s apartment… again.  After the incident with Trevor, things had obviously not gone terribly smoothly, although it could have been worse.  The police became involved, but there was no evidence to support that either James or Q had been witnesses, and Q thanked some of the unsettling new skills that spying was teaching Bond.  Q got temporarily moved to another room, a single, and the last he saw of Trevor for the next little while was the poor fellow spilling his guts to the police.  

“He’ll be fine,” Alec said lazily when Q related the incident, having left the building for some air to find the other shape-shifter leaning against his motorcycle at the curb.  Q would have made some comment about how stalker-ish it was to loiter outside someone’s dormitory, but couldn’t exactly find fault in the added level of unofficial security.  Bond had driven him there, after all, and had almost followed him in like a telepathic guard-dog (a fact that was extra ironic considering that Q could turn into a cat).  “I think his dealer has agreed that the debt is already settled,” was all Alec said on the rest of the matter, and Q decided not to ask.  The whole situation had still left James, Alec, and Q a bit edgy, of course, so Q continued to find himself at the other boys’ dorm instead of his own.  

So that’s where he was when he got sucker-punched by his returning test-scores.  

“Q?”  Leave it to Bond to know that something was wrong, but apparently not telepathic enough at the moment to know exactly what.  James was reading something on his bed while Alec snoozed on his.  “Q, what’s wrong?”

Unable to tear his eyes away but also not wanting to look for another second, Q stood up and stumbled back around his chair, nearly overturning it.  That woke Alec up with a start, although Q was only peripherally aware of that - he also had no idea that James had abandoned his reading and unfolded off his bed until he felt a hand on his back.  Both blond-haired young men had been getting more soft-footed by the day, as if their spy-training were somehow leaching the sound out of them.  “Q-?” he started to ask again.

“I failed,” Q got the words out with a stutter of breath, numb and hollow.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw James’s head swivel sharply to follow Q’s eyes to his laptop screen.  “I failed my Gift-tutoring class.  I didn’t even know that she was grading us.”

Apparently Alec was up and listening, because he uttered an immediate and eloquent, “Fuck,” because he possibly hated Q’s Gift-tutor more than Q did.  “That class with the dog?”

Q nodded his head automatically, even as he repeated in a softer, more broken voice, “I failed it.”  He felt some of the emptiness give way suddenly to emotion again, and it was like the tide rushing back in, tossing the beach into chaos again.  “How did I fail it?!  I don’t fail things!” he started to rant.  When he felt Bond’s hand move to touch his elbow, he sensed pity coming, and finally spun away from his computer to glare defensively at Bond, who raised his hands disarmingly.  “I don’t!” Q repeated, “You have to understand - I don’t fail things!  Look at my other grades!”  He flailed a hand at his screen.  “They’re spotless!  They’re top-mark, because I’m smart and I work hard!”  Anger was mixing with the hurt, and Q couldn’t help it, because he hoped that the anger would last longer - otherwise, if it faded and left him alone with the rest of it, he feared that he’d cry.  His genius had always been the most important part of him, the thing that people praised him for and took note of, so he took his grades seriously.  He’d nearly studied himself into a coma, he’d been so determined to keep his marks up - and he’d been sure that the work would pay off.  

In the end, that was what he was really frustrated about: he wasn’t throwing a tantrum because he’d gotten a less-than-perfect mark, he was hurt and confused because he’d put in the work for a good grade…

And had been failed instead.

Realizing this, and that his arguments weren’t going to change anything, Q lost his combative stance along with his anger all at once, deflating.  The young boffin’s arms dropped limp to his side and his shoulders drooped, matching the fall of his head.  

It was hard to tell how much James was getting of this, because while it was true that his telepathic Gift was growing in strength, he still had the consistency of a light-bulb with bad wiring - sometimes he was on, sometimes he flickered, and sometimes he was utterly off.  And if Q was looking down at his argyle socks instead of Bond’s face, he couldn’t tell whether the larger boy was ‘listening’ at all.  But James had other skills that stood in for his Telepathy, and his observational skills were almost preternaturally good, and they never had ‘off’ moments.  Bond stepped forward, and this time when Q felt hands on either of his elbows, he found himself being drawn forward until he found himself suddenly up-close and personal with Bond’s chest.  He squirmed for a moment, but didn’t have it in him to really protest, and gave up with a little sigh against Bond’s shoulder as the hug solidified.  

“Your tutor failed you for not transforming during her class?” Bond either guessed or picked up from Q’s thoughts, voice steady and low.  

Q concentrated on the warm hands wrapped around his back; one was over his lower spine, steady and strong, and the other rubbed slowly between his shoulder-blades.  He shivered and cuddled closer before he was able to catch himself, and before he realized that it was a knee-jerk reaction to the kind of touch he liked as a cat.  Both Alec and James knew that Q, as a cat, liked a good rub between his bony little shoulders, although both of them were gentleman enough not to tease him about it after he was walking around on two legs again.  Actually, both of them quite naturally keep Q’s feline life and his human life quite separate, with no unprofessional petting when Q was acting like a sensible, bipedal human being.  Somehow, though, instead of feeling like he was being belittled or patronized like a pet, Q felt an added layer of comfort wrapped up in the gesture he usually only got as a cat.  Embarrassingly, he actually whined a little, and hid his face against the collar of James’s black T-shirt as he realized that he was actually tearing up over this.  

“Shit,” he gasped, feeling the encroaching tears and then hearing them in his voice, too, “I am not crying!”

“We know you’re not, boffin,” Alec said in a surprisingly sincere tone, especially considering that everyone knew it was a lie - Q was totally on the verge of crying over one simple scholarly mark, and he felt like an idiot for it.  “Just answer Jamesy’s question, okay?”  Instead of staying on his bed, Alec got up, too, and the only thing that kept Q from wriggling away from more attention was that Bond had a bloody strong grip, and Q wasn’t trying that hard anyway.  Alec came to stand just behind Bond, so that his unexpectedly calm green eyes could meet Q’s watery hazel ones over James’s shoulder.  “You did shape-shift for her that one time - I was there, and I doubt anyone would forget it.  I’m just shocked that woman wasn’t fired for siccing a dog on you.”

“She didn’t sic Whittleby on me,” Q sniffed, grudgingly bringing a hand up as if he were hugging James back, because he had to rub at his eyes - if he didn’t, he’d get James’s shirt wet, after all.  It definitely seemed that he was crying now, mostly out of hurt frustration.  “And she always know that I could shift into a cat, but she wanted to help me learn to change back, but I just… I just couldn’t…  After that…”  Feeling more helpless than he probably had when naked and cornered in the bathroom just days ago, Q found his diction breaking down, and he gave up on smearing wetness on Bond’s shirt and just buried his face in the young man’s shoulder.  His glasses pushed against his nose while he hid, and he heard himself let out another, thicker-sounding not-sob as a hand - Alec’s - fell on his head and pushed into his hair in what was definitely a pet and definitely full of sympathy and not condescension.  

“Come on, Q,” Bond coaxed, sounding worried in a way that he rarely did nowadays.  Spies-in-training, apparently, were unflappable - unless their semi-resident computer geek had a break-down on them, of course.  “It’ll be all right.  That grade doesn’t make you any less of a genius.”  

“No,” Q muttered mutinously into James’s collarbone, “it just makes me pants at controlling my own Gift.  The woman didn’t just lower me a mark - she failed me!  Utterly failed me!”

“Knew I should have gone after that woman instead of the dog,” Alec opined darkly.  

James took over the conversation again even as his body rocked, and it was probably embarrassing that Q found the motion comforting, along with the arms that remained firm around him like a flexing suit of armor.  “It’s not the end of the world, Q,” he stated, and before Q could argue that it certainly was to him, James continued with utter seriousness, “There would be a lot more fire and explosions for that, and I can guarantee that Alec and I would warn you about that first.”

The hand still tangled in Q’s hair shook a bit, and a noise alerted Q that Alec was doing a poor job of stifling laughter.  When Q lifted his face enough to stare over his glasses, he saw a grin fighting its way across Alec’s face.  He defended himself instantly, “Hey, it’s true!  And don’t look at me - Jamesy is the one who’s already had a psych eval.  If anyone is going to start the end of the world-”

“It’ll be you,” James retorted back sardonically, not bothering to turn his head while arguing with his roommate (who was still standing behind him, and also still petting Q’s head, as if to gentle his wet-eyed, half-hearted glare).  “You’re the one with a warning label about possible pyromania in your file.”

Alec’s eyes rounded a bit as he glanced up at the back of James’s head.  “You’ve seen my file?”

“You know that I had a psych eval?”

“I guessed, actually.”

Something about the ridiculousness and surreal quality of this argument finally broke through Q’s feelings of patheticness, and he made a noise between a broken chuckle and a waning little sniffle.  Somehow, the hand he’d lifted earlier had stayed, and it now found itself fisted in James’s tee while the other one tried not to do anything awkward as it stayed trapped between their two bodies.  James was very warm, and very firm, all packed muscle and the kind of unshakable connection with the ground that only landing cats and old mountains had.  “You two are insane,” he mumbled, meaning it to sound posh and maybe scathing, but instead sounding guardedly fond and rather grateful.  

“Why, thank you, Q, I think you’re wonderful, too,” Alec said with exaggerated excitement, and promptly went from stroking to ruffling Q’s hair up.  The boffin finally escaped James’s hug as he squawked and jumped, but the only reason he succeeded was because he also - in a split-second, but conscious, thought - transformed into a cat.  There was a lot of fumbling, and Q suspected that he missed some of it because he still had an off-and-on habit of blacking out post-shift, but when Q came back to himself he’d thumped to the floor and was racing across the floor.  Alec and James were equally unprepared, meaning that James didn’t stop him and Alec didn’t dodge - and Q’s flying leap was pretty good for a bloke who still didn't know how to use his tail for balance yet.  He landed on the side of Alec’s knee, half-sliding back to the floor before his claws did what they were supposed to and dug into the weave of his jeans.  Alec’s shouted curse of surprise was totally worth the fact that Q then had to admit that he had no idea how to let go.  

“I’m telling you, James, we should just bring him into work one day - call him your trained attack-cat,” Alec said, half-joking, half grumbling as he stood very still while James squatted down to help untangle Q.  Bond, of course, was nearly choking on the effort not to bust out in laughter, and as it was, was releasing chuckles with every breath.  Q had managed to unhook his own back-claws, but had leapt high enough that, even when stretched to his full feline length, he couldn’t touch the floor as he dangled by his snagged front-claws.  James broke down and let out a rolling laugh as he sat back on his heels at Alec’s side, one hand fisted in front of his face (as if it could stop the laughter at all) and the other hovering over Q’s back (also totally unhelpful).

Q directed a feline grumble at him even as Alec growled, “James, you unhelpful bastard-”

“Fine - fine!” James capitulated breathily between laughs, and suddenly his hand closed, and Q realized that he was in the process of being scruffed again.  Some days he thought he hated it, and he always squirmed on principle, but every time he was reminded that being picked up by his nape miraculously didn’t hurt.  It was infuriating how easily James’s other hands freed Q’s little fore-paws when Q had been trying for nearly a minute now with no luck, but then Q was distracted as he was lifted further. When the loose skin at his neck was released again, it was when he was cradled up against James’s chest, which still shook with laughter in a way that was infectious.  Q couldn’t recall the last time he’d heard James laugh that much.  Both Alec and James had been getting quieter on their feet and more evenly muscled, but they’d also started laughing less - just a bit - with every day they trained.  Now, though, James’s humor had Q purring reflexively, trying valiantly to get his own tiny chest to thrum louder than James’s chuckles.  

After that, it was hard to be unhappy about Mrs. Morris’s assessment of his skills.  

Q still didn’t manage to transform back on command - he didn’t know if he ever would, because unless they gave him a different tutor entirely, and that tutor convinced him that they weren’t going to make him to transform in a place that wasn’t totally safe, he wasn’t going to practice with a professional - but as soon as he felt his heart sink with the failure, James’s Telepathy must have picked it up.  Otherwise, why the sudden idea of going out for a ride on Alec’s motorcycle?  

After a full half-hour of being tucked up inside Bond’s jacket with only his whiskered face sticking out, breathless with the rush of speed and the tight cocoon of safety around him, all the while with Alec flying along with them, Q was pleasantly exhausted.  He was a limp thing by the time they were inside, and thought he might have been half-asleep and purring when James unzipped his coat to lift him out.  Either way, James laughed again, and Q thought muzzily about how that was the most wonderful sound, and that James should do it more often.  For a second, the hands sliding around Q’s ribcage froze, but then continued to move Q even though his body was surprisingly supple and felt like a slinky when he was like this.  

Alec’s laughter, soft and low, wasn’t a half-bad sound either.  “Your boffin’s becoming a liquid, James.”

“He’s cuter than you when you sleep.”

“Now that’s just mean, James.  I’m the one you have to live with, remember.”

“Exactly.”

By that point, Q had roused a little, and with more solidity in his bones he knew that he was easier to carry.  As soon as he smelled and sensed the bed beneath him, however, his whiskers tingling with the contact of the sheets near them, he found sleep rushing in again.  He ended up stretched out along Bond’s side as the blue-eyed young man shared the bed with him again, not hesitant about it in the slightest, even though he’d stripped down and to just his pants and tee.  In a fuzzy sort of way, Q wondered if he should be so okay with that.

“Don’t overthink it, Q,” Bond murmured from behind him, and rubbed a single finger down Q’s sloped, sleek skull to that spot between his shoulderblades.  Usually, Q stressed the fact that he was always human no matter what skin he wore, but he felt a little feline as he stretched into the touch, and decided to take Bond’s advice and not overthink that either.  His paws touched the wall as he splayed them, and his tail touched James if he flicked it, leaving him with a feeling of safety from being securely bordered on both sides.  

“Mind if I join?” Alec asked, sounding unexpectedly hesitant.  Q twitched and ear and opened his eyes, because he honestly couldn’t recall when Alec had ever asked that.  Had he unsettled them that much with his break-down today?

Again, James answered the thought seamlessly, “You did,” before raising his voice just a little to indicate that he was talking to Alec, “Of course I don’t mind.  Just don’t keep any of us awake.”  And with that, he lay the rest of the way down, although when his hand rested on the bed it ended up in front of Q, almost touching his out-flung forepaws.  Beginning, despite James’s suggestion, to really consider how intimately close he was right now to a rather underdressed James, Q pulled his paws in self-consciously to his chest-

A feathery weight landed on Bond’s sternum and made him huff out a grunt.  “Alec, I’m going to stuff a pillow with you one of these days,” he growled.  

Alec just laughed, a rasping noise full of joviality.  Wings half-unfurled for balance, he hopped from James’s onto the bed, this time landing almost on top of Q’s tail.  Q still wasn’t very good with that appendage, but managed to flick it out of Alec’s way - of course, then the raven cackled again and snapped his beak.  He caught Q’s tail on the second try, and because Q was too tired to get out a proper hiss, he instead growled.  It was a good noise, and he’d have to practice it later, because it actually got James’s to liven up and lift his head to stare down at is two bed-mates quizzically.  He therefore caught Alec in the act, Q’s black tail stuck in his beak.  “I’m sure they’d teach me how to hide a body if I just asked,” James said flatly, eyeing Alec and making his warning clear.  

Black eyes glancing between Q and James, Alec put Q’s tail down very, very carefully.  Then nudged it, so that when he himself plopped down he didn’t sit on it.  That still left Q with Alec’s feathers equally as close as Bond’s body, and his brain gave up on being scandalized about that.  With a sigh, he dropped his head again.  

I assume it’s all right if I stay over?’ he asked with a last sleepy attempt at politeness.

James was fortunately still awake enough to be Telepathically listening.  “ 'Course,” he murmured shortly, clearly not caring.  His hand twitched, and it was reflex for Q to put out a paw and press the finger back into stillness, and James let him.  

I’ll try to change back in the morning.’

“Sure, Q.  We won’t judge you either way,” was Bond’s sincere sigh, before they all started to drift off.  Q’s black and white pelt gave a little twitch as he felt feathers and a beak make a pillow of his flank, but by then he was making a teddy-bear of Bond’s hand, so he figured it hardly mattered.  

~^~

Of course, somewhere in the night, Q would change back all on his own, as easy as breathing.  Alec and James, despite being agents-in-training, would hardly startle in the slightest, because at some point ages ago they’d accepted Q as a part of everything they knew - MI6 was teaching them to build shields around themselves, but they were building those shields with the boffin inside, and MI6 didn’t know that.  Alec and James would wake only in the most superficial manner, blinking and shifting a little before accepting that their third friend was human again and the bed had a bit less free space.  Alec would clack his beak moodily and James would softly whisper for him to stop grumbling, and then the raven would hop up and over Q’s legs to make a new nest for himself on top of Q’s hip.  Like a sentry, he’d perch there, and maybe puff up a little with silent laughter.

“What?” James would ask, quiet and already almost asleep again.  As agents, they were learning to value sleep like gold - because it was valuable and likely to be stolen from them at a moment’s notice, not to mention it was hard to recoup.  

Eyes shining, the raven’s beak would tip down towards Q’s front.  Bond would pretend not to comprehend, and continue frowning up at his friend.  Finally, Alec would churr quietly in his chest and ruffle his feathers, thinking, ‘You’re hopeless, you know that?  And whipped.  Utterly whipped.’

Bond would pretend not to hear him, even though his Telepathy was sharpening with every day he practiced - with Q in the mix, he seemed to learn faster than with just Alec to practice with.  With James stubbornly feigning sleep, he’d soon become asleep for real, and Alec would follow suit, feathers contentedly fluffed up and beak secure under the feathers of one wing.  

And Q would doze through it all, asleep on his side, back flush to Bond’s right side, tucked against the blond-haired young man’s ribs and under his arm.  Most noticeably, however, would be the fact that Q had yet to let go of Bond’s hand, fingers instead of paws wrapped around it now in a snug, comfortable grip.

Any sort of embarrassment would wait until morning.  

 

Extra: How to Evaluate Your Agents

 

Perhaps it was added incentive for Q to be so relaxed as a cat, because his feline form had the unique ability to relax James and Alec in turn.  It was a superpower of sorts that he realized slowly, but which eventually came to a head when he called one evening about coming over (and bringing Thai take-out with him, to prove that he wasn’t just taking advantage of their hospitality), to find himself talking with a tense James on the other end of the line.  

“I don’t know if coming over right now is the best idea,” he said, sounding strained.  There was a noise in the background that made Q stand up a bit straighter, brain trying to identify it.

“Did something just break?”

Bond sighed and didn’t admit to anything besides, “Look, Alec’s not…  He’s not doing very well at the moment.  We had evaluations this week, and-”

“What happened?” Q demanded, even as he felt an unexpectedly strong wave of protectiveness roll through him.  He thought he could actually hear Trevelyan in the background: he sounded raw, angry, and very unlike the jovial young man he usually was.  

“Things got a bit personal, and didn’t end well,” was the tight and unhappy answer Q got, “Look, Q, he’ll be all right - physically, he’s fine.  Our handlers just have a way of pushing all the worst buttons, although as his partner, apparently it’s my job to handle the aftermath when they do that.”  James did not sound pleased.

Well, Q wasn’t pleased either.  “I’m coming over,” he said primly, pinning the phone between his shoulder and ear while awkwardly tugging on his coat and seeking out his shoes.

The voice from his mobile sounded startled, “What?  No, Q, I said he’s-”

“Not fit for polite company, yes, I think I got that part.”  Shoes found, Q sat at the edge of his bed - which was nowhere near as comfortable as James’s, but he did his best not to dwell on that - to put them on.  “But I’m coming over.”

Bond’s tone firmed up, “Q, he’s a wreck and he’s a lot stronger than you.”

“Are you saying he’s a danger to me?”  Q’s shoes were already on.  “Well, he might be stronger than me, but he’s not that much stronger than you, is he?”

“Yes, but-”

“I’m his friend, too, James.  And I trust that you can handle him - and I want to help,” Q stated stubbornly, surprised to find himself unintimidated by the situation.  

Finally, Bond gave in with a sigh.  “Since I can already hear you going out the door, I suppose there’s no point in arguing, is there?”

“Not in the slightest.”

~^~

Alec was indeed a wreck and indeed in a rather incendiary mood - it was unsettling to see.  Q wanted to know what had happened to make him like this, but while Bond’s tired, sad face said that he knew, Q couldn’t bring himself to ask.  After Q’s arrival, Alec ran the gambit of emotions from fury to deepest sorrow, and there were definitely a few times where Q wondered if he should have listened to James and stayed away.  Alec when he was angry was a terrifying person to be with, but Bond had eyes like a hawk, and saw the uglier turns in Trevelyan’s mood before Q even realized that the danger was mounting - so it was always James in the line of fire when Alec suddenly snapped, and Q saw no less than three impromptu wrestling matches as things got physical.  Q had to go and talk to the neighbors more than once, but thankfully, it was the weekend, so there were fewer people to complain about the noise.

Matching strengths with James seemed to burn some of the anger and frustration out of Alec, and at one point, after the two larger students separated - James rubbing his jaw where Alec had gotten an elbow in, Alec probably feeling the chokehold that Bond had momentarily locked around his neck - Alec moved to his bed, put his head in his hands, and started to cry.  He looked so broken, and James looked so helpless to do anything, that Q didn’t even think before he found himself changing.  He was vaguely aware of James barking out his name, but then his memory blanked out as it often did.

When Q’s thoughts came back, he stiffened, fur fluffing up, wondering if he’d made a life-threatening mistake by changing into a shape that was even smaller and more vulnerable than his usual, scarecrow frame.  However, taking stock and glancing around, he found himself cupped in two hands that were slightly less familiar than James’s.  Alec slipped one hand out from underneath him, letting Q’s back-paws settle on his thighs instead, and ran a shaky hand uncertainly over Q’s back.  

“You back with us, Q?” Bond asked softly, from where he was sitting on his bed across the room.  He sounded watchful but calm.

Q nodded, also thinking sentences to convey that he was fine, just in case it wasn’t obvious.  When Alec’s petting remained shy and hesitant, Q rolled out a convincing purr - something that he usually did involuntarily, but could cobble together purposefully if he really concentrated.  A glance upwards showed him a haggard face that looked years too old hovering over him, eyes full of so much ragged pain that Q’s breath caught, making his whiskers flair.  The stroke of Alec’s hand became slightly more sure of itself, however, and the swearing and shouting had stopped, making this one of the calmest moments that had occurred since Q came in the door.  

While Bond watched and Q sat sedately with his small forepaws curled over Alec’s right wrist, Alec slowly came down from whatever height of wrath and hurt he’d been worked into.  Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he closed his eyes, making a face as he finally seemed to notice the tears leaking out past his pale lashes.  This time, when he swore, it sounded more like mere disgruntlement, and Q took a risk to push up and stand - that put him close enough to reach upwards and touch his white-tipped paw to Alec’s chin.  Surprised, green eyes flashed open instantly, and for a moment, everyone tensed all over again.

But then Alec just sighed the air out of his lungs and deflated.  “You’re a determined, fluffy little mite, aren’t you?” he said, voice rough but trying to find its usual humor like a lantern hunting in the dark, “I still don’t know why James let you come over.”

By this point, Q had been petted so much that he could feel static crackling in the fur all down his back, but he continued to tolerate it as he sat back down and answered in his head, ‘Because he knows that I’ll never fix his laptop again if he tried to keep me out.’

Still sitting on his own bed, James chuckled but then translated.  Alec laughed back, and while it still sounded a bit broken and stilted, it was the first step towards normalcy.  A bit later, and Bond trusted the two together enough to go and find them all something to eat, because Q hadn’t had time to get the promised Thai, and the past two hours had taken a lot out of all of them.

Alec hadn’t let go of Q since the boffin had found himself on the larger shape-shifter’s lap, and only moved to lean back against the head of his bed as James often did when sitting with Q-in-cat-form.  A bit self-conscious but knowing that this was all for the greater good, Q shuffled around as they moved, eventually settling down again against the sling of Alec’s arm, over his stomach.  All attempts to curl his tail professionally around his paws failed, and he looked at the appendage with a tiny growl; in response, it merely flopped back and forth.  

It was hard to be annoyed by that when it made Alec laugh more naturally.  When the remaining human in the room did sober up, it was only to point out, “Shit, I just realized I’m not a Telepath.  I mean, I realized that, but I forgot that James is your voice while he’s here and you're like this.”  Alec made an uncomfortable face, reminding Q that the green-eyed young man was actually very nervous about breaking Q most of the time.  It was unexpectedly amusing, when contrasted with the agent-in-training’s dangerousness from earlier.  Q chuffed out a noise that he thought sounded reasonably like a laugh, and shifted his shoulder-blades in a facsimile of a careless human shrug.

Alec relaxed.  He dropped his head back against his pillows and stared at the ceiling for a moment, one arm still curled behind Q and the other idly pushing his fingertips at Q’s furry flank.  It was more annoying than comfortable, but Q could tolerate it if it kept Trevelyan centered and calm.  Eventually Alec’s attention shifted a little, and his hand did, too, feeling one of Q’s paws with distracted curiosity.  Q had actually done a lot of research into cat anatomy, but was still secretly surprised whenever a simple flex made his claws appear and disappear like magic, as they did now when Alec gently depressed the pads.  “I understand, I really do, that MI6 has to see us at our worst,” Alec said unexpectedly, lowering his eyes to focus on Q’s paw - the completely black one, making his claws appear pale as they suddenly extended of their own accord in response of Q’s surprise.  

Suddenly, he rather wished Bond were there.  ‘MI6?’  Somehow, it had never quite sunk in that this might be the entity presently employing his two best friends as future spies.  

While Q stared, round-eyed with shock, Alec continued with a grimace, “That’s what they tested me on this week - how I’d react in a no-win situation that hit close to my heart.”  He snarled suddenly, actually baring his teeth as he said, “I’d rather have taken a bullet.”

This time, it was clear where the anger was directed: at his handlers, at MI6, but it faded quickly as Alec focused on Q, now stroking his back again with a light touch.  Alec sighed and let it go, closing his eyes and looking pained.  “I knew it was coming, too, you know, because James got put under pressure first, and he came out of it just fine.”  A humorless chuckle filled the air like ground glass.  “They made me think that my father had been captured by an enemy organization - my father, whom I haven’t seen since I was a kid, and is presumed dead even though they never found a fucking body.  It was so real, and I wanted to save him, but there simply was no way to do it.  No way.”  Alec’s hands lifted to scrub over his face as the emotions crashed into him, but Q still thought he saw tears first, escaping Alec’s tightly closed eyes.  “Fuck.  Bloody fuck.  I thought that I actually heard him die, but it was all faked.  They had to know what I’d do in a situation like that, when someone I cared about was hurt, and apparently I did the right thing, damn it.  I pulled myself together and did what I was told - I did the mission.”  He was talking through his hands, voice broken and ragged and full of ugly things.  “I did the damn mission, even though I didn’t know it was a test until hours later.  James had had the same thing happen to him, but it didn’t hit him the same way, so I didn’t know that it would feel this bad.”

Deeply moved and heartbroken for his friend, Q got up, standing on Alec’s torso and resisting the urge to dig his claws into the young man’s shirt for balance as he walked forward up his chest.  Mewling insistently, he got Alec to move his hands from his face, revealing red eyes and a taut, pained expression.  Not entirely sure what to do, but willing to believe that he was rather cuddly as a cat (James said it often enough, possibly because it embarrassed Q and made him glare), Q hesitated for only a moment before butting his head against Alec’s cheek.  

Actually, he missed and got his nose, but thankfully it had been a gentle nudge, because Q was still a very small cat.  Alec chortled, and then he lifted a hand to stroke it down Q’s neck and back again, which relieved the boffin more than he’d expected - if he was petting Q, then he was calming down, and hopefully not tearing himself up inside.  

“You remember what I said about James having a psych eval?” Alec asked unexpectedly, voice still a little thick.  The change in topic was surprising, but Q merely nodded, still standing on Alec’s chest and letting his back arch into each stroke because it felt nice.  “Well, he admitted to having one, and I know exactly what it was about.  They tested him, too - they took someone he loved and pretended to threaten and kill her.”  The whole idea horrified Q and made him feel sick, but Alec merely shook his head and continued in a low voice, “But it didn’t phase him.  He wasn’t bothered at all.  They thought they hit a nerve, but it all washed over him.  They either think that he’s the best candidate for a spy they’ve ever had, or they think he’s got a piece missing in his head.”

While Q found himself shockingly proud and giddy at the fact that James had outmaneuvered his handlers in this brutal exercise, he was also caught on the hooks of worry, and it must have showed on his feline face, because Alec shrugged.  Then he smiled.  “It’s all right, Q, our Jamesy isn’t broken.  MI6 just hit the wrong nerve.  They’ll probably try again, but I still don’t think it will work.  Want to know who they used as a target?”  Without waiting for an answer, Alec went on, warming to his subject and also grinning a bit more naturally, “Girl he’s been seeing.  Problem is, James sees lots of girls - always has.  Never sleeps with 'em more than once, though.”  Suddenly, his eyes grew canny in a way that reminded Q that Alec was a raven half his life.  A finger poked his nose unexpectedly, and Q backed up with a little ‘mrowl’ of displeasure.  Alec was patently unintimidated by either the sound or the way Q’s tail fluffed up.  “You just got a little jealous there, didn’t you?”

Narrowing his eyes and glaring, feeling his tail swish, Q gave his head a deliberate shake.  Alec, for the first time all day, laughed outright.  The movement made Q nearly lose his balance on the young man’s stomach.  

“Fine, fine - say whatever you like,” Alec allowed, but then finished, “But the truth is, there’s only one chink in James’s armor, and I don’t think MI6 is going to find it, because James doesn’t openly seduce and charm that particular chink in public.”  He paused, and when Q just blinked, he prodded the feline-shaped boffin again.  “I’m talking about you, kitten.  Bond’s parents died sometime ago, and he’s no other family and doesn’t make friends as easily as MI6 thinks he does - so besides me, you’re his only soft-spot.”

To put it mildly, Q was floored.  He sat down as heavily as a cat his size possibly could, and just blinked and stared.  

Alec, for his part, grinned like a fool.  He plucked at Q’s tail like he fancied doing while a raven, and this time Q couldn’t even consider hissing or swatting at him for it.  “Welcome to our messed-up world, Q,” Alec congratulated, even as a knock sounded on the door - exactly seven strikes.  “Come on in, Jamesy!  I’m not going to throw things anymore, promise!  Any chance you brought that dessert I like?”

“If you mean the dessert you like to feed to Q when he’s sitting on me, leaving sugar all over, then yes,” James muttered, slipping in with a bags of take-out hanging from each hand and apparently no idea what his two other friends had been talking about, “I don’t know why, but yes.  You all right?”  His tone and expression were mild, but it looked like a mask, because his eyes were too intent as they looked up from toeing off his shoes.  

Alec smirked and shrugged, then lifted up a squirming Q.  “Maybe we should get Q certified as a service animal,” he suggested.  

Which, of course, distracted Q from his previous shock enough for him to growl threateningly and pedal his back-paws against Alec’s wrists - he kept his claws in, but Alec still jumped, proving that he was still insecure about cats.  Q landed on his belly with a thump, then leapt off the bead, transforming into a human somehow in mid-leap.  He skidded a bit, but at least landed on two feet while the other two young men stared.  Standing up, Q recovered himself and tugged his cardigan straight before pushing up his glasses.  “I meant to do that,” he stated with as much sincerity as he could muster.

Of course, Alec and James were in training as MI6 spies, so they probably saw through lies like that as easily as breathing already.  Fortunately, they were also gentlemen to a certain degree - or, at least, they respected Q enough that neither of them called him out, and soon they were all sharing food and forgetting that the day had ever been terrible.