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if I couldn't be strong

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Since the day he met James Bond, Q had tried to prepare himself for the inevitable moment when he would get the news that Bond was dead. After all, Bond was a double-oh, and one of the more reckless double-ohs at that. It seemed like every mission the man went on ended in a bloody mess of some kind, usually complete with guns and explosions. What had happened at Skyfall was just the tip of it all.

But this. There was no way he could've prepared himself for this. Q stared through the small viewing window and tried to make sense of what his eyes were telling him. For a long moment he dared to hope that he was seeing things - but then Moneypenny grabbed his arm, and her nails dug in so painfully that there was no way he was dreaming. This was real, and that was indeed James Bond, 007 himself, lying in a hospital bed in what could only be described as a coma.

"Do we know what happened yet?" Moneypenny was asking Tanner in a whisper, like the sound of her voice might be enough to wake Bond up. It wouldn't. The doctors had assured them of that. Bond had been like this for two weeks now: labelled a John Doe in his early forties, with no identification and no friends or family to claim him.

Suffice to say, the three of them had been treated to some death glares when they showed up out of the blue claiming to know the patient. It was obvious none of the doctors wanted to release Bond, but with the power of MI6 behind the order, they didn't have a choice. Bond was being cleared for immediate transport to MI6, where the best doctors in England would give him a thorough checking over and hopefully shed some light on what had happened.

Q didn't think it was going to make a difference. He listened vaguely as Tanner reiterated what little they already knew: Bond had been unofficially missing for a good three months, ever since that night on the bridge. No one had heard from him. It was pure coincidence that a young MI6 agent had been in the hospital to visit a relative and recognized the infamous 007. If not for that, God only knew how long Bond would've languished here.

It didn't take a long time to actually get Bond moved. Within two hours he was being settled into the depths of Medical in MI6, and after the doctors had run several tests Q and Moneypenny were allowed into the room for the first time so long as they kept their distance. Q's stomach hurt as he looked at Bond.

"He's so still," Moneypenny said quietly. "It's a bit creepy, don't you think?"

"Yes," Q said, the only word he could force out through the lump in his throat. It shouldn't have ended this way. James Bond deserved to go out the way he'd lived his life: in a blaze of glory, not wasting away like this.

Moneypenny sighed, running her hands through her hair. She gathered it up into a ponytail, then let it fall around her shoulders. "He might still wake up, Q."

He didn't answer her. He walked out instead, letting his feet take him back to his office. If anyone spoke to him on the way there, he was deaf to their comments and questions. It was a relief to be able to shut the door between him and everyone else, though he never made it to his desk. Q crouched down right there against the door and fisted his trembling hands. His heart was racing, and his breathing was too fast, but his eyes were dry.

Bond. Beautiful, cunning, deceptive, strong Bond. A man who was at complete odds with the still, silent body in that hospital bed. It was sickening. Much as it had stung when Bond walked away from MI6 that night, this was a hundred times worse. At least Q had been able to comfort himself a little over the past three months with the knowledge that Bond was off happy somewhere. Now he didn't even have that lie.

How had this happened? Q pushed himself to his feet and staggered over to his desk. The details the doctors at the hospital had given them were pitiful. Bond had been dropped off one night by a helpful samaritan who'd found him in a local park. He'd been wearing jeans two sizes too big and a ratty old t-shirt, which was unusual in itself because Bond was always well-dressed. And since that night, nothing about his health had changed.

Q sat down and took a moment to rub his eyes. His fingers were still shaking, but not so badly he couldn't type. He readjusted his glasses and set to work, easily hacking into the hospital's security system and calling up the video footage. He pinpointed the night when Bond was brought in and settled down to scan the videos.

It took about an hour before he found the right segment: a pitiful five second snippet of a man in dark clothing and sunglasses, even though it was night, carrying Bond into the waiting room. Helpful samaritan, indeed. The video didn't show anything else, as no matter how many times Q switched angles he couldn't find the man again. Apparently helpful samaritans knew how to dodge cameras. He scowled at his computer, hunched his shoulders and started typing.

Over the next week, Q spent every spare second following whatever lead he could dig up. Which wasn't much, considering that Q-branch was in the midst of rebuilding their security systems so that what C had done would never happen again. It still galled Q to think that someone had gotten into his systems so easily. Of course, this time C had basically been given permission to do so - but that didn't change the fact that their security was in dire need of an upgrade.

In spite of how hard the whole branch was working, Q was usually the first person to arrive in the morning. And he spent those precious few minutes with Bond. He knew it was foolish. Stupid, even. No one was aware of his feelings, not even Moneypenny, and Q wanted to keep it that way. He was all too aware that Bond would never reciprocate; even if Bond was interested in men, Q was nothing more than the quartermaster, and a young one at that.

Every minute he spent here, he risked someone finding out and asking unpleasant questions. He could pretend that a couple of visits was just a quartermaster inquiring after the health of one of his top agents. A few more? That could be written off as asking after a colleague that Q had spent a fair amount of time with (and risked his job for on at least three separate occasions that the whole of MI6 knew about, never mind the occasions they didn't).

But this? There was no excusing this as anything other than what it was. Pathetic longing, and a need to be close to Bond to comfort himself. Q couldn't even pretend that he was visiting Bond to keep the man company. No, this was about Q and the fact that the majority of his nightmares lately had featured an empty hospital bed and another trip to the local cemetery.

"You need to wake up, you sodding prick," he said to Bond, not bothering to lower his voice. The only other sound in the room was the beep of the heart monitor. "I can destroy these people very easily, but I don't want to hear you whining about having missed out on the action later on."

Predictably, Bond didn't respond. Q sighed and shifted his position, shooting a quick glance at his watch. It was getting on, and he'd have to slip out soon. The night shift of doctors and nurses were much easier to sneak by than the day shift. It was an easy thing to access the footage of Bond's room and remove the video of Q being there, but it was a much larger task to buy silence.

"I've found two of them so far. They're both in jail now. They gave themselves up. Pity. I was beginning to have fun," he said, though that was more to himself than his silent companion. "It's amazing how quickly people fall apart when everything electronic backfires on them. A few shocks from their mobile phones, the lights malfunctioning in every room they walked into, a couple cars blowing up, empty bank accounts... On the other hand, several charities around London recently received sizeable monetary donations." He smirked.

He kept on talking in a low voice as he typed, but there was one thing Q very carefully did not talk about. Though he was making sure to explore other avenues, as 007 had no shortage of enemies, he had spent a good portion of his time trying to locate Madeleine Swann. Her disappearance was conspicuous. Why wasn't she with Bond? Why hadn't she come to MI6 when he went missing?

Either she had been taken or she was dead, in which case Q wanted to know why her body hadn't been found, or she'd been working for Spectre from the beginning and Bond had got himself a very nasty piece of work for a girlfriend. At this point either scenario was likely, but Q was beginning to lean towards the latter. And it had nothing to do with the little worm of jealousy that made itself known every time he pictured Swann and Bond together.

Regardless, he hadn't voiced anything about Swann to Bond. If he was wrong, and Swann had been kidnapped or dead, then it didn't seem right to put that kind of knowledge on Bond when he was unconscious on the off chance Bond could still hear them. And if Q turned out to be right, well. He wanted to take care of Madeleine Swann on his own, before Bond woke up. A simple bullet to the head would be too easy a death for her.

The sound of voices roused him from his stupor, and Q realized he'd been sitting here staring at Bond like a lovesick teenager for the past several minutes. Shaking his head at his own idiocy, he hastily got up and tucked his laptop under his arm. He paused by the bed, looking down at Bond. The sight of the sallow skin, the beard forming over Bond's jaw, the terrible hospital gown... it was all so wrong, it was nauseating.

Up until now, Q hadn't touched Bond. He knew that Moneypenny had come in a few times and held Bond's hand, and the nurses had been taking care of everything else (short of shaving, apparently, because no one was reckless enough to volunteer to wield a razor near a double-oh, even one that was unconscious), but Q hadn't allowed himself to cross that line. Now, though, he couldn't stop himself from running his thumb down the line of Bond's jaw. The one and only time Bond had grown a beard for a mission, he'd shaved it off in the plane on the way back to England and demanded that Q erase as much of the footage as possible.

"Please wake up," Q whispered, his throat aching terribly. "MI6 needs you, James. I need you."

Bond slept on, not moving, and Q sighed. He took a step back and turned away, stopping short when he realized that Moneypenny was standing in the doorway. The way she was looking at him spoke volumes about exactly how long she'd been there for. Q tightened his grip on his laptop and met her gaze squarely. If she hadn't been blocking the only exit, he would've made a run for it.

Finally, she broke the silence with a soft, "I never realized you were in love with him."

"It was no one's business but my own."

"I take it that Bond doesn't know."

"Of course not." Q almost laughed at the idea. He was positive that, as far as Bond was concerned, the two of them were mere colleagues. Possibly crossing the line into acquaintances. But not even friends, never mind the potential for something more. The hours he'd spent with Bond testing out new equipment (much of which had been created with Bond in mind), all the missions that Q had handled personally, even the numerous times when a bored Bond came down to haunt Q-branch... it didn't mean anything, not the way his traitorous heart wanted it to.

Moneypenny sighed. "I knew you had a crush on him," she said, and when Q choked on his own saliva, she shot him a sympathetic look. "Everyone goes through a Bond period, Q. It happens. Even if anyone else knew, which I don't think anyone does, no one would think less of you. It's what double-ohs do. They're charming and charismatic and they know how to get under your skin without even trying. Bond is just particularly good at it, the bastard."

"I should have stopped it there," Q said, still frustrated with himself for not having done so. For having fallen in love with James Bond without even knowing it, until one morning when Bond was testing out a new variety of ammunition and had turned to Q with a broad grin and a wink. That one, simple moment had been like a bucket of ice water on top of a dumbfounded Q's head.

"If you were capable of doing that, Darling, you'd need to patent the ability so you could be a billionaire," Moneypenny replied. Her smile was soft and kind. "When he wakes up, you should tell him."

"No."

"Q -"

"I said no. And I need to be going," he added. "So please move aside."

She looked frustrated but obeyed. As he went to walk past her, she stopped him with a hand to his arm and said, "I know what you've been doing. If you need help..."

"I'll let you know," Q promised.

"See that you do."

Over the course of the next two weeks, now more certain than ever that Spectre was behind what had happened, Q focused on Blofeld. He was pissed off to find out that there were a half a dozen moles in MI6 who had been helping Blofeld to sneak messages to the outside. Why Bond hadn't just killed the man to be done with it, Q would never know. Normal procedure demanded that he take the names of the moles to M so that they could be dealt with through the proper channels. He decided to take a more innovative approach.

One by one, he destroyed their credit ratings. Put them in debt for thousands of dollars after draining their bank accounts (even the secret, off shore ones) dry. Burned houses and flats to the ground. Set cars and, on one memorable occasion, a boat to explode. He added them to the watch list of every intelligence agency in the world. Flagged their passports. Erased prescriptions and medical files and set medical devices to malfunction after three of the six ended up at the hospital. He felt no remorse at all when their names showed up in the obituaries half a dozen days later.

The other three did not get away easily. Two of them were taken to jail on charges of murder, and it was the work of mere minutes to ensure that they would never walk free again. The last mole, who appeared to be Blofeld's most trusted and who bore a remarkable resemblance to the "good samaritan" who had taken Bond to the hospital in the first place, was kidnapped by another, smaller but violent crime organization after some incriminating footage mysteriously showed up on said organization's servers. Q was confident that the mole would never surface again.

He reported all of this to Bond when Moneypenny wasn't around. He might have felt a little guilty for so recklessly destroying lives had it not been for the report lying on his desk that came from Tanner, of all people, which suggested temporarily retiring the 007 title. At least they didn't want to assign it to someone else, but to Q it seemed like all of M16 was beginning to give up on Bond. It was going on six weeks now that Bond had been in a coma, with no sign of improvement.

Q stood up, glanced at the door and then crept over to the bed. He'd already crossed another line when he started telling Bond about things unrelated to Spectre. Things about MI6, about Bond's fellow double-ohs, missions that Bond would have been sent out on, things about Moneypenny and M and Tanner, even things about Q's personal life. He'd found himself talking about his cats once or twice, for god's sake. But he told himself that anything that filled the room and made the silence not so dreadful was better than nothing.

Still though, that was bad enough, but more and more lately he'd been breaking his self-imposed rule about not touching Bond. Sometimes something as simple as sitting on the bed beside the man could make him feel better. Today, he needed a little more. He put a hand on Bond's chest, splayed out above Bond's head, and closed his eyes to reassure himself that Bond was still breathing. He was. The movement of his chest and the faint thump of his heart were comforting.

His head ached. He was exhausted. Between staying up for days at a time to focus on both work and hunting down the remaining members of Spectre, he hadn't slept properly in weeks. The bed was easily wide enough to accommodate the two of them. A distant part of his mind was screaming that this was a nominally poor idea, but he took his glasses off and laid down anyway. Except for his hand on Bond's chest, he made sure that no part of them was touching. The last thing he needed was the MI6 medical team calling security on the quartermaster.

With Bond right there beside him, he felt safe, and the heaviness of sleep settled over him rapidly. He blinked once, then twice, and fell asleep.

Shouting voices jolted him awake. Q lurched upright, scrabbling for his glasses. The room came into focus when he slipped them on, and he realized that there were half a dozen doctors and nurses in the room, plus Moneypenny. He blushed, mortified, and quickly scrambled off the bed. He watched as the medical personnel converged on Bond with more than a little bit of panic. Was Bond going into cardiac arrest? Was he breathing properly? What if Q had rolled over on some vital piece of equipment and -

"Q, it's okay," Moneypenny said, suddenly by his side. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and guided him out of the room, where they were met by Tanner and M. "They're helping him. This is a good thing."

"Helping him?" Q echoed, his grip on his laptop far too tight.

Moneypenny nodded and lowered her voice. "Q-branch just received a video message from Blofeld. You can watch it if you like, but all he says is that James has been poisoned."

"Poisoned?" Tanner said.

"Apparently it's some rare plant that can only be found in the Caribbean," she replied. "It doesn't show up on the regular tests. It essentially paralyzes the victim for several weeks. After a certain point, the organs are so damaged that they just stop functioning. It's a very slow, agonizing death, especially because the victim is often aware of what's happening. They just can't communicate anything to the outside world."

Q's stomach dropped. "So Bond has been aware all this time?"

"I don't know. It's different for everyone, Q. But the main point is, they're running tests right now, and if it turns out that Blofeld is right about the poison then that means they'll be able to get an antidote." She was beaming now. "He could be awake by this time tomorrow."

"Why would Blofeld help?" M said. "He hates 007."

Especially now that Q had gone out of his way to make Blofeld's life a living hell. Not only did Blofeld now spend roughly 80% of his days in solitary confinement thanks to a little meddling with the prison records, no electronic gadgets worked when Blofeld was within a five foot radius, and according to prison records that had got him jumped more than once. Q tried to keep his expression innocent.

"I'm not sure. Q-branch was tackling the video when R passed the message along to me. I don't know if they've found anything yet or not." She paused, frowning. "He did mention Madeleine Swann, though."

"He did?" Q came instantly to attention. "What did he say?"

"Nothing help in that regard. He just dropped her name."

Tanner asked her something else, but Q was no longer listening. His mind was racing and finally, it seemed like all of the loose threads were coming together. What if Swann had been working for Spectre all along, just as Q had initially suspected? Maybe, with Blofeld in prison and the rest of Spectre on the run from MI6, she'd decided to she'd double-cross the organization, poison Bond and was now in hiding. If that was the case, then Blofeld was probably furious.

He glanced over his shoulder at the doctors and nurses surrounding Bond. He wanted to stay here, but this was his chance to find Swann and get revenge - especially if there was a possibility Bond was going to wake up soon. Normally Q would've thought that Bond would want to enact his own, personal brand of vengeance, but the last time anyone had seen Bond he'd let Blofeld live. It was entirely possible that he would feel the same way about Swann, and Q was not going to let that happen.

"I'll go help analyze the video," he said, interrupting Moneypenny mid-sentence.

"Go ahead. I'll text you if anything changes," she answered.

After one last fruitless glance through the window (he couldn't even see Bond now with all of the medical personnel in the room), Q made his way down to Q-branch. R met him at the door and filled him in on everything they'd found out so far, which was a lot as it turned out: whoever had filmed the video for Blofeld had at least some degree of talent, because they'd embedded another file into the video - right at the point when Blofeld mentioned Swann's name.

But it was encrypted, and heavily at that, and it would take even the best hackers at Q-branch a while to break through. Fortunately, Q was head and shoulders above them all. He took the encrypted file and started throwing everything he had against it, using what he knew about Spectre and the Nine Eyes system to get through more quickly. It didn't surprise him that the code was very similar to Nine Eyes, but just different enough to make things interesting.

It still took him most of the night to break through. He was expecting another video, but instead it was coordinates. Q frowned and did a search for the coordinates. They led him to a small airport in France. He sipped from a cup of cold tea and easily hacked into the airport's security footage to see what was going on. He almost spit out his tea when he found her.

Madeleine Swann was sitting in the airport, flipping through a magazine. Her hair had been cut short and dyed red, but it was definitely her. Q stared for a moment, hardly able to believe that he'd finally found her. And that she was running. The bag at her feet had a tag already attached. When he did a search for flights that were departing, the only one leaving the airport was a plane to Russia, which was then going on to Australia.

Maybe she'd get off at Russia, or maybe she'd continue on to Australia. Q didn't care. The sight of her peaceful smile filled him with a cold rage. She had no right to be walking around healthy and free after what she'd done to Bond. He drummed his fingers against the desk, wondering what he should do. Taking the plane down would be easy, but there would be innocent people on board and that didn't sit right.

After a few minutes of thought, he uploaded a virus into the plane's computer system that would ensure it wouldn't get off the ground anytime soon. Then he watched as the problem was discovered during the pre-flight check. The expression on Swann's face was perfect. She looked equal parts furious and afraid. Good. Q hoped that she was scared. This time there would be no Bond to protect her.

Since there were no other flights leaving the airport until well into the next day, Swann reacted exactly the way Q wanted her to. She went straight over to the small car rental department. Q smiled to himself as he watched her renting a car. That was the nice thing about cars these days. The onboard computers were so... developed. And he'd really brushed up on his skills involving cars over the past month and a half.

He was already in the car's system before Swann even left the airport. He put together a simple virus that would lock up the steering column and disabled both the brakes and the airbag and uploaded it. Then it was a simple matter of watching the car's GPS until she came to a hill. Q activated the virus and watched dispassionately as the GPS showed the car running off the road and into a very densely wooded area.

A collision at over a hundred miles an hour meant that there was no way she would survive that kind of crash. As far as he was concerned, it was less than what she deserved.

It took about an hour longer to clean up after himself, not that he was concerned. Officially he would be in trouble if anyone found out, but unofficially? No one would have cause for anger after everything she'd done. Q removed all evidence of the file and hacking and rose to go speak with R. When she questioned him, he told her that the encrypted file was blank. No doubt Blofeld's way of getting MI6 to waste their time. R gave him a searching look, but accepted the story - at least for now. No doubt she'd have questions for him later.

"Sir, I think you should go home," she said. "We'll continue looking over the video file for any other data, but you... you don't look good."

Q tried not to wince. Truth be told, he didn't feel that good either. He'd expected to feel better after having taken out Madeleine Swann, but honestly he was just exhausted to the point of wanting to vomit. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spent more than twenty minutes at his flat, and then it was only to care for his cats. It was probably at least two to three days before they'd found Bond, since even back then he'd been pulling all nighters to deal with the security issues.

His phone pinged with a message before he could respond. He glanced at it automatically. It was a message from Moneypenny, short and to the point.

They've ordered the antidote now. It should be here by tonight. You should be here when they administer it.

That was the last thing Q wanted. He never should have let himself get so close to Bond. Now Bond was going to wake up, which was brilliant, really, except for the fact that things would go back to the way they used to be - if he was lucky. Because there was an excellent chance Bond would wake up and disappear. He'd left MI6 once already; there was nothing saying he wouldn't do it again.

"Sir?" R pressed.

"I'm going," Q said, putting his phone back in his pocket without responding. "Call me if you need me."

"We will. I've taken the liberty of requesting a car for you, Sir."

Of course she had. Too tired to bother scolding her, Q stumbled away. He pointedly did not stop in medical on his way out. By the time he actually made it back to his flat, his head was swimming. Going up in the lift made him so lightheaded that it was a struggle to unlock his front door, lock it behind him, and make it past his howling cats. Thank god for automatic cat food dispensers, because Q went straight into the bedroom and collapsed into a dead sleep.

His phone woke him up. Q groped around until he located it, still in his pocket. He straightened his glasses, which he hadn't even removed, and squinted at the screen. It felt like someone had reached up inside of him and seized hold of his lungs when he saw the message.

Bond's awake.

Sleep be damned; Q launched himself out bed and made it to his computer in a record amount of time. He logged on and immediately accessed Medical. There were no words to describe the feeling that shot through him when the video showed Bond sitting up in bed, speaking to Moneypenny and a doctor. It might have been relief, except that it was so powerful it left Q lightheaded and dizzy all over again.

Bond was okay. He'd probably need several weeks, if not months, of therapy, and it might be a long time before he could go on missions (if he even wanted to), but he was okay. He closed his eyes for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose. After weeks in a coma, weeks lingering nearer to death than any of them could have guessed, 007 had made it out the other side yet again.

"Bloody hell," he whispered, and if his voice was quivering a bit, and his face got wet, no one was the wiser except for his two cats. And he was confident they would tell no one.

For the next two days, Q alternated between sleeping, eating and cuddling his cats in front of his computer. He felt a bit like a voyeur, watching Bond all the time, but it was hard to accept that Bond was awake. Every time he walked away from the computer, he became convinced that it was all just a silly dream. The nightmares weren't exactly helping either, though they were lessening in frequency if not potency.

On the third day, he resolutely shut his computer down and made himself a promise. From now on, he would be professional in regards to James Bond. He would leave tracking down the rest of Spectre, what little remained, to the field agents and select members of Q-branch. He would not hack into Medical's video footage anymore. He would definitely not go see Bond. He would act the exact same way he would towards Bond as he would towards any other agent who was injured.

Because that's what they were, he reminded himself as he took the tube back to MI6. They were colleagues, and Bond was, in fact, just getting out of a relationship. Granted, his girlfriend had tried to kill him. But that was more inclined to mess him up, not less. In fact, taking Vesper into account, it wouldn't have surprised Q if Bond made the decision to give up on dating and love entirely. Clearly his test in women was shit.

Regardless. They were colleagues. No more, no less.

It was surprisingly easy to go back to work and lose himself in the ebb and flow of Q-branch. His minions had noticed his inattention over the past several weeks, of course, and though R had been kind enough to divert the worst of it, there was a lot for Q to attend to. He threw himself into gathering data, changing coding, hacking into servers, assisting agents, and creating new weapons.

Moneypenny cornered him once, and only once, just as he was finishing up a mission. She set a cup of tea down by his elbow and said, "You're making a mistake."

"Then it's mine to make, isn't it?" Q said, attempting pleasantry, but he had a splitting headache so it probably came out short. He eyed the tea, not sure if he wanted to accept the peace offering or not.

"But Q -"

"You know he won't care for me that way," Q interrupted her. "I've made my peace with that. But I can't do that to myself. I won't. Telling Bond what I feel for him would be like sticking my hand into a fire. I know what's going to happen; I'll be burned. And I can't handle that right now. Or ever. Not from him. And if he didn't hear everything while he was out, and God I hope he didn't, then I have to ask that you not tell him, either."

She was quiet, too quiet, and his heart stuttered in his chest.

"You didn't!"

"Well I'm sorry," Moneypenny said crossly, folding her arms. "He was asking me questions about what happened, and one of the nurses happened to mention you'd spent lots of time here, and you know what Bond is like when he really wants to know something. He won't quit. He was halfway out of bed to come down here himself. So really, I like to think I chose the lesser of two evils."

Q glared at her. It helped to hide the pure terror slowly leeching through him. "So what exactly does he know?"

"That you visited him lots, though I think he already knew that. He asked for you as soon as he was awake and seemed confused that you weren't there. He also knows that you were pivotal in taking down certain parts of Spectre... though in my defense, I did not tell him that part. Tanner did. He also knows about Swann's death, but I didn't tell him about your part in it."

"I had no part in it."

Moneypenny rolled her eyes. "Sure you didn't. To sum it up, I didn't tell him you're head over heels in love with him, you're welcome, but he might have guessed."

"It's a phase," he said with as much dignity as he could muster. "Nothing more. You said it yourself, everyone at MI6 goes through it sooner or later."

Her expression changed into something bordering on pity. "Most people have a crush on him, Q, or want to shag him. I think we can agree that there's ample proof you've rather gone past that. That doesn't just go away."

"And I'll get over it in time. It won't affect my job, if that's what you're asking. It hasn't before."

To her credit, Moneypenny did not ask for details on just how long this had been going on. She just gave him another one of those quiet, pitying looks, shook her head and backed out of the room. Q mistakenly thought he'd able to breathe easier once she was gone, but he couldn't: his chest felt oddly tight at the idea that Bond might have figured it out or worse, heard everything while he was unconscious. But surely, considering the help that Q had given him during the Skyfall mess and again with Spectre, not to mention the other missions in between, Bond would give him a pass.

He reassessed that idea when, not a full week after Moneypenny cornered him in his office, he walked in to find Bond sitting on the sofa.

Q stopped short for just a moment, but it was long enough to show he was rattled. He recovered quickly, inwardly cursing himself, and carried his cup of tea over to the desk. "Dare I ask how you've managed to escape Medical? Am I going to have a team of nurses banging at my door shortly?"

"Bribery goes a long way," Bond replied. "So no. I'm guessing they were just as pleased to see me leave as I was to go. They're a prickly bunch."

"Considering they have to deal with field agents who would rather bleed out than go to Medical for five minutes, I can't see why," Q said, unable to resist the urge to look at Bond. Somehow his self control seemed to fall to pieces around the bloody man.

Bond didn't look too poorly. He'd lost weight while he was in a coma, and his hands had developed a faint tremor - though that was more likely to be from fatigue than anything else, since he doubted that Bond would have consented to allowing the use of a wheelchair to bring him down to Q-branch. But on the whole he was surprisingly put together, well-fitting suit and all.

"If they weren't such vultures, maybe agents would be more willing to go," said Bond, a faint smirk quirking the corner of his mouth. "And you, Q? I take it you have no problem with Medical, since I've been told that you spent a lot of time there over the past two and a half months."

Damn. Q vowed to take office gossip into account next time. Not that was he was truly surprised. He could erase and manipulate footage all he liked, and be as sneaky as he wanted, but somehow office gossip prevailed every time. Nothing was ever really a secret in a place like M16, and an awful lot of doctors and nurses had caught him sleeping beside Bond. No wonder some of his minions had been giving him increasingly soppy looks whenever he walked by.

"That has nothing to do with anything. I was merely querying into the health of one of my agents."

"Your agents?"

"Yes. The double-ohs are mine," Q said, completely unapologetic, because it was true. The double-ohs were his to outfit, his to guide, his to care for. He took that responsibility very, very seriously. The fact that he was in love with one of them had very little bearing on that.

"Should I be jealous?" Bond asked. "Here I was thinking I was special."

The back of Q's neck burned. He hid his cringe behind a sip of tea. "Bond -"

"I heard your voice. While I was - you know."

"You... you heard," Q said weakly.

"I don't remember a lot of what you said," Bond said, though whether or not that was true was very much up for debate. "But I remember you." He looked away. "When I was awake, I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I couldn't do anything. Your voice was familiar. It was comforting."

It felt like an admission of sorts, a very pivotal one, and Q's stomach started doing flip flops. Again, he began, "Bond -"

"You can call me James, you know. You did off my girlfriend."

"Ex-girlfriend. She poisoned you," Q pointed out, neither confirming nor denying the accusation. Probably everyone knew it was true by now, and the quartermaster of MI6 did not possess a license to kill. But he was also aware that, in light of what Swann had done, her death would be swept under the rug as something that would have happened anyway. Q had merely saved another double-oh the trouble.

"She did. I'll never live that down, either." Bond shook his head. "Moneypenny's been telling me I have shit taste in women."

"She's right."

"I know. I just didn't realize Madeleine had planned this. I thought she'd take out a gun and shoot me." His smile turned bitter, for a moment, but directed inwards. "I ought to have known better. She hated guns."

"I'm not sorry," Q said, because it needed to be said.

"You shouldn't be. You did me a favor. A lot of favors." Bond looked up at him. "Don't beat yourself up too much. It wasn't like Vesper. Fool me once and all that. I didn't love her, and she didn't love me. Not the way she said she did. Not after the way we came together. I could see it... It's remarkable how fast adrenaline can wear off, and how it can take the best parts of a relationship with it when it does."

Q winced at that. "That, I am sorry for."

"I'm not. I should have left at that point and come back where I belonged, but I thought she might have a lead on Spectre." He pressed a hand to the back of his neck, which Q knew from hacking into Medical's files was the initial point of injection for the poison, and chuckled ruefully. "Turned out she had more of a lead than I realized."

"She had someone take you to the hospital," Q said carefully, sensing that he was treading a thin line. "So she must have cared to some degree."

"Perhaps," Bond said, in that vague way of someone who vehemently disagreed but did not want to get into it right now. "Can I take you to dinner, Q?"

Q nearly dumped his cup of tea on his lap at the sudden change in topic. "No need to thank me," he said when he'd recovered. "I don't - you don't have to... to take me out as repayment -"

"That's not why I'm asking. It's occurred to me that I might have been looking in the wrong place all along. Madeleine and Vesper both wanted one thing from me I couldn't give; I'm not ready to retire," Bond said, and only a double-oh could say that when they were only two weeks out from having nearly suffered a slow, painful death from poisoning. "Perhaps I should be looking at the one person who will not only ask that of me, but is also in a position to help ensure I get to that point."

"If you're just saying this because of what happened... what you heard... I didn't do any of that of to be -"

"All I'm asking, Q, is a chance to take you to dinner and get to know you outside of this bloody building." Bond nodded to their surroundings. "I'll admit that the circumstances of the past few weeks have opened my eyes to a few things. In the past, I have been accused of not seeing what's right in front of my face."

"You are remarkably oblivious," Q muttered. His hands were shaking. He didn't know what to think or feel. "I didn't... your file says you're straight."

Bond snorted. "As though Psych knows anything. I'm pansexual, Q. I've slept with men before, and not just in the line of duty."

Of course. Why hadn't he put that together before? Though it was far more common for double-ohs to seduce women, it did happen that the occasional man needed to be bedded as well. It had yet to happen on one of Bond's missions in the time that Q had been here. Then again, there was a difference between bedding someone for the sake of a mission and choosing to do so for personal pleasure.

When the silence dragged on, Bond added, "I already know that I enjoy your company and your wit." He smirked. "You're free to say no, but I thought I would ask."

"Yes," Q said before he could stop himself.

"Yes?"

"Yes. I'll have dinner with you." This would probably end in disaster and broken hearts. Q was smart enough to realize that. Just not smart enough to save himself the trouble, apparently. Though he would challenge anyone to say no to the frankly beautiful smile that lit up James Bond's face after weeks of watching the man lay in bed and slide closer to death.

"Excellent. Now come over here so I can kiss you."

"You really shouldn't have left Medical," Q said, even as he set his cup aside and stood up. His own legs were a bit shaky; not even in his deepest fantasies had he expected this to happen. "I'm not in this for a quick shag, you know," he thought to add as firm hands settled onto his hips and dragged him down with surprising strength. He ended up straddling Bond's lap, looking down into Bond's face.

"The thing about quick shags, Q, is that they're all the same," Bond replied. "And I can find them anywhere. Getting a quick shag out of the man who regularly holds my life in his hands is a level of recklessness and stupidity even I'm not prepared to go near."

Q smiled, just a little. "Perhaps you have learned something, then. James."

"Even an old dog can learn new tricks."

Bond kissed him then, and Q wasn't ashamed to say that it was easily the best kiss of his life.