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It’s sunny in Laos. Sweat skids down Bond’s spine as he waits.

It’s raining in London. Q’s fingers are cold as he types.

Bond opens a newspaper, gaze on the woman with the emerald scarf around her neck. She buys spices and talks to the vendor.

Bond breathes in Laos. Q blows on his tea in London.

“How’s the weather, 007,” Q asks.

Squinting at the sky, Bond murmurs, “Too hot for my liking.”

A warning light flashes on a screen on the far right. Q monitors it. No action required yet.

The exchange occurs when the woman laughs and the vendor gives her a wrapped piece of fruit for free.

The object is retrieved by sundown, just as a storm appears overhead.

It’s raining in Laos and Bond jogs to catch his flight, rain skidding down his spine. It’s cloudy in London and Q lifts his mug only to find it empty, his hand cold.

-

There are layers. Layers of security. Layers of secrets. Layers of lies and names (the man is 007, he is also Bond, he is finally James). Layers of underground.

Q has layers; he hides them in his button-down shirts and cardigans. He hides them in the bones of his wrists and the wit of his fingers. He hides them behind his glasses.

He brushes his hair out of his eyes. Bond enters the lab, flipping a small metal case in his hands like a deck of cards.

“A toy for you, Q,” he says. “Never say I don’t get you anything on these little excursions.”

“You never get me my toys back in proper working condition,” Q retorts. “But then I guess we can’t have it all, can we.”

“A bit melodramatic of you. I don’t like it. Doesn’t suit you.”

“A bit unimaginative of you, 007. You’re usually more forward-thinking in your color commentary.”

“And here I thought you would go for the pun,” Bond says, mouth twisted to the side as if he’s smiling. Q huffs, gives him an envelope and takes the metallic drive from him with a quick lift, soft sleight of hand. It catches Bond by surprise.

“A thief? You really are a street urchin, aren’t you. Is that how they recruited you.” Bond leans against Q’s table, pointing the envelope at him. “Did you pickpocket M.”

Q looks at him, waits until he has Bond’s gaze (which was on Q’s fingers, as if he’s still a little bewildered), then he smiles, his polite one, the one he saves for people on the tube and anyone who asks him to fix their computer.

“Sad, isn’t it, that your quartermaster can steal from you right under your nose. I can see why they recruited you for intelligence gathering.”

Bond smirks and his eyes have never looked bluer. He taps the envelope. “This my next vacation destination?”

“Forms for debriefing.” Q revels in the schadenfreude brought about by paperwork. It’s a simple sweet nothing, but he’ll take what he can get.

“Q.”

“007.”

Straightening, Bond tucks the envelope into his jacket, then he reaches out and Q doesn’t have time to move before his cardigan is being adjusted, the collar of his shirt smoothed.

“Keep your layers in place. You’ll look smarter,” Bond says.

Q narrows his eyes. “Go away.” Something beeps at him, but he won’t look away until Bond does.

They smirk at each other at the same time. Bond gives him a small salute and leaves.

-

There is nothing gentle about Bond once you’ve seen him at his weapon-best, cold eyes and hard hands and the sliding ability to become a shadow, a reflection, a trigger to be pulled (or not pulled). He sets explosions without blinking, Q listens to the steady breaths as he runs, pounding like his feet; he swallows his drink down without a shudder and heads into a fistfight turned knife fight turned gunfight like he’s placed his bets and he’s betting on himself to win.

Then he returns to London, to Q branch and carefully puts the remains of the scanner on Q’s desk. He gingerly turns over his gun, palms soft. He looks like a disheveled, nonchalant schoolboy waiting for Q’s grade on his work.

There’s nothing gentle about Q once you’ve seen him type one-handed, tea clutched in the other, and after a few keystrokes, a factory explodes, killing twelve drug thugs. He sighs and adjusts his glasses.

Bond makes him laugh, under his breath, when he gives Q an ivory knife wrapped in silk.

“You did tell me to knife Cruz,” Bond says in explanation.

“Quieter than a gunshot and just as effective,” Q replies, pleased. He balances the knife on the side of his finger and Bond sights down his hand at him from the other end. “Right between the ribs.”

“Into the lungs.”

“Can’t make a sound then.”

They smile at each other, death in their mouths. There’s nothing gentle about it.

Q turns the knife in his hand, blade pointed away so he can straighten the line of Bond’s jacket and Bond shifts, “Pickpocketing again? It’s a nasty habit, Q.”

“I’d like my radio back. Nothing untoward.”

“Everything about you is untoward. Your clothes. Your hair. Your ability to lock me in medical after a mission.”

“Good health should be a priority of yours. Give me my radio and go away,” Q says, waving his hand and the knife, a white flare as if he’s producing magic, and Bond rears back out of slashing range.

“No need to do battle. Fine. Take your fucking radio.”

“Language, 007. Now fuck off, you sodding prick.”

Bond laughs and Q spins his knife on his desk.

-

A warning light flashes on a screen on the far right. Q monitors it.

Bond says, “How’s the weather, Q.”

“Damp.”

“Would you like some sunshine.”

“Dubai can probably spare some,” Q allows. “But right now, I’d rather have my hard drive please.”

A snap of bone over the comm and Q doesn’t wince, just stares at the warning light like it might help him become clairvoyant.

“You’ll get your bloody hard drive when I’m good and fucking ready,” Bond says. Another snap of bone, then a gunshot. “Fuck but you’re demanding.”

No action required yet.

-

Q has nightmares. He dreams he’s typing in a language he doesn’t know and he cannot fucking read it. He dreams he suddenly forgets everything he ever knew, amnesiac in a single almighty sword-stroke. He dreams he hits the final key and half of England sinks into the cold ocean. He dreams he hits the final key and the Northern Hemisphere goes under the waves or into the skies. He dreams he hits the final key and nothing happens. He dreams of ropes and hot irons and how quickly he’ll break under extreme pressure, how his bones will sound when they break, one by one by one. He dreams he loses Bond on a bright city street in the middle of the day and no amount of prying, rock-kicking, stone-turning, none of his skills or attempts or loss of sleep will ever find 007 again. He dreams he gives Bond a gun and a knife and Bond cuts his chest open before putting a bullet in his brain. He dreams he types in a word and goes mad and all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men cannot put him together again.

He dreams and wakes in a sweat, sheets twisted around his limbs, then he untangles, makes his gritted-teeth steady way to the kitchen to make a cuppa.

Q has nightmares. He wonders what Bond’s are, whether the agent even dreams or if he just comes to screaming out of the blackness of something close to sleep.

Q stares at his hands and drinks his tea and tries not to think of Bond’s hands in the dark reaching for a gun.

-

Bond comes back from a mission with three clean-cracked ribs, a broken nose (re-broken, Q tells himself), crooked fingers on his left hand, and something wrong with his knee. He’s practically back from the dead (“again,” Q tells Bond, “yet again”) and on forced recovery leave, he takes to haunting various areas: the gym, medical, the firing range, Q branch.

Q runs fingers along the barrel of the Walther. “Après moi, le déluge.

“Is that so.” Bond stares at the ceiling.

“A tad more fitting for you, 007,” Q says. (He thinks of the bodies left in the man's wake. He wonders if he'll be one of them. The day he wakes in a panic without knowing why is the day it's true; the day he sees Bond's absolutely dead body is the day it's true; the day he tastes his own blood, swallowing it like water is the day it's true.)

“Is that so,” Bond repeats, eyes lost in the glare of the lab lights. “I think that's a bloody lie.” He buttons his jacket, elbow nudging into Q's side. “A big fucking lie. Pyjamas. Earl Grey. Remember?”

Q could be the next Silva. Q could have the world at his knees. He’d have Bond holding the chain for the world’s leash. (Would he hold Bond’s leash though, and Q dismisses that thought, it makes him think of leather and the smell of cordite and bedrooms with shadows thrown across their bodies.)

Instead, Q shakes his head, pushes his hair out of his eyes, settles his glasses higher on his nose. “It is fucking tempting,” he says.

“But.”

“But for some reason, I rather like fighting for Queen and country. Having to follow you as you fuck and fight your way around the world.”

He doesn’t mean to say it and Bond leans forward in his chair because he knows it, he is an interrogator after all.

“Cleaning up your messes, however sexual, financial, lethal, or metaphorical they may be, honestly, there is a simpler way to do your job, if you’d just listen to me,” Q smiles, the polite one, he needs to get out of this conversational mess. He shrugs. “Everyone needs a hobby.”

Bond is watching him, head tilted. “I should think taking over the world would be easier.”

“Fuckloads,” Q admits. “After you, 007, the deluge.”

He can’t help it, he doesn’t want to be another person left in the aftermath of Bond, he’d rather be ahead of him or alongside him, quietly causing chaos or calming it, whichever is necessary at the exact moment because Bond deals in all measurements of time: a bomb could explode in the next twenty seconds, it takes three minutes to run to safety, a flight to Prague takes two hours, an assassin will fly into Barcelona in four days, a contact resurfaces after eight weeks, it’ll take five months to properly heal from a gunshot, a dictator rises after twelve years in exile.

He sets the Walther down and Bond picks it up.

“Is that so.”

-

A warning light flashes on a screen on the far right. Q monitors it. And Bond hisses, “Exit, exit.”

I can’t find you, Q thinks, a touch desperately, because the warning light is important, a remote has triggered a countdown somewhere and Bond is in the vicinity running towards the countdown, where is he, last time Q blinked, Bond was on the street two blocks away, he mentioned something about #14, street, building, climbing stairs to check a hunch – “got you, sixth floor, don’t take the lift, the bomb’s in the building next to you, you’ll have to get to the street—“

“Heading to the roof,” Bond spits and Q glares at the monitors, “Yes, that’s precisely what I said, the roof.”

“Next time, you’ll pull all the fucking stunts and I’ll sit back, drink tea, and hit ENTER when the spirit moves me.”

Maybe if Q glowers hard enough Bond will feel his displeasure across the distance like some sort of technological magic.

The sound of Bond breathing fast (maybe Q’s magic is working), then there’s a horrifying lack of noise followed by a hard crash and Bond mutters something dark; running again, breathing fast, and Q hasn’t breathed yet.

“What did you do – did you just jump across the rooftops.”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you ever do that again.”

“Get down here and stop me,” Bond says, “which floor.”

“Tenth.”

They stop talking because Q is keeping an eye on the evacuating populace and the onrushing polizei and all he can hear and see are sirens and flashing lights and the small red dot (helpfully labeled BOND) is almost lost in the schematics and mess and blueprints of possible bomb types.

His hands curl against his table, he realizes he’s resting his weight against it at his hips, leaning over his work station as if stopping himself from stepping to the bank of monitors. As if he won’t let himself get any closer.

“Blue,” Bond says and Q confirms, “Blue,” then randomly, he thinks of Bond’s eyes, cold as jewel chips in the stone of his face; there’s a snick, Q imagines a pocketknife (standard issue multi-tool, sharp, good for dispatching people and objects together on a good day); then Bond breathes and Q breathes, pulls at the cuffs of his shirt, the hem of his jumper.

His tea is still warm and Bond and the building won’t blow up.

Bond says, “Exit,” because the polizei are cordoning off the area, and Q says, “There should be an old fire escape which leads to an alley. It’ll drop you into a nice neighborhood square, 007, please try to look presentable.”

“I always look presentable.”

Q scowls.

-

On Q’s desk, shoved between two laptops, is an umbrella. The Union Jack splashed over it and Q almost expects it to sing ‘God Save The Queen’ when he opens it (indoors, ignoring Moneypenny’s whispered admonishment, ‘It’s bad luck’).

A note wrapped around the polished wooden handle. Blocky handwriting, print running into cursive running into print.

For the deluge. Stay dry, electronics don’t tend to work well in water. JB

His fingertips find a ‘Q’ engraved in the wood and he smiles, whip-fast, then clears his throat and gets back to work.

-

Moneypenny points her fork at Q, a carrot circle speared on the tines. “Are you really that upset about a transmitter?”

“Fucking hell yes I am. Budget, taxpayer’s money, and all that,” Q replies, straightening his shoulders, mock affronted, “besides, it was a good piece of tech, it’s not as if he doesn’t come back without his suit or his car, he can bloody well keep track of his fucking watch, the wanker, I think he does it on purpose.”

Across from him, Moneypenny stares at him, expression one of surprise and possible epiphany. “You do have enough hair for pigtails,” she says, finally crunching into the carrot. She spears another one and Q squints at her through his glasses.

“Leave my hair out of this, we’re discussing the arrogant, unhelpful bastard who keeps stealing my tech—“

“He doesn’t steal it, you give it to him, sweetheart—“

“It’s thievery if he doesn’t return it, Eve—“

“I don’t think you’re really complaining,” she settles, all cat in the cream. “I mean, you’re complaining…’cause he gives you the right to complain and you like it. You get to see James, berate him like a child, and then send him toddling off with a dazed look on his face. Admit it, you do love chastising him. Why don’t you just graduate up to whips and chains—“

“I will get you evicted from your beloved flat and give you a new job as a cashier at a Tesco,” Q hisses. It’s a shame he only has a dull silverware knife and spoon at his disposal since he’s now dropped his fork on the ground.

“And what’s wrong with Tesco. I might enjoy the quiet life.”

It’s possible he bares his teeth at her.

She laughs. “You look like an angry kitten when you do that.”

Q wishes to be the carrot stabbed on her fork. “How’s your sister.”

Moneypenny laughs again. “Don’t get in a strop. And stop trying to change the subject. James is a nice bit of machinery, isn’t he.”

“How’s that lovely neighbor of yours, what’s his name, Philip, Jack, Richard, Dick—“

“Q, I can strangle you with this napkin.”

“And I can make you try to blackmail some part of Parliament, isn’t that treason of some sort?”

She shrugs, clearly not worried, Q needs to think of a better threat, but she’s laughing, “Whips and chains, sweet boy, whips and chains.”

“If I wanted that, I’d get myself kidnapped.”

-

Q gets himself kidnapped. In Copenhagen. He prefers not to leave Q branch, but certain issues meant he had to be relatively on site to control the flow of information – and ‘to keep a closer eye on 007,’ M harrumphed, ‘maybe he’ll go through less explosives this time.’

It’s not his fault, really, he was waiting until the last second to unplug and run (a warning light was flashing RUN RUN RUN RUN), the file was uploading, Bond was practically pacing like a starving predator in a hotel twenty blocks away, and the identification needed to go through, Q was willing it with clenched fists and teeth, his technological magic was not going to fail him this time.

Then he didn’t pull the plug fast enough, he and his three laptops were taken by brute force and extreme prejudice, ex-military, he thinks, most likely mercenaries working for Markel, the man whose picture he sent to Bond. He thinks this because they have the jackboot look, black clothes and black weapons and black masks, right before they throw a bag over his head (accompanied by a 1-2 punch to the face and solar plexus). He lashes out, bag crooked enough he can see, his body remembering some of its training and he knows he gets a few good surprises in, no one expects much from the physically underwhelming, but he doesn’t get far against studded gloves and body armor. He’s drawing air like something’s punctured, a slow whistle, his wrists and ankles on fire from the fucking rope they’ve tied him with, he’s fucking thrown on the floor of a lorry like a sack of potatoes. His glasses are broken, snapped in half, and he really hopes he doesn’t have glass in his eyes, he should be blinking blind-rage agony and glass, though he’s either crying without his permission or his eyes are bleeding.

And he’s furious and he’s scared and he’s in pain everywhere he moves. They haul him to his feet, drag him into a big open area, a warehouse most likely and it’s fucking cold, he remembers seeing ice floating out on the water yesterday, the wind is sharp as obsidian and the cold is worse, he doesn’t have a coat, and his hands and feet are already going numb. His body shakes and the ruins of his glasses fall on his chest, startling him; if he could get the lenses jagged, he could try—

A blow to his ribs and his heart skips and the glasses disappear into the haze he’s living in.

They leave the bag on his head, so he’s breathing wet cloth that quickly becomes wet blood-soaked cloth as they hit him and ask questions, or sometimes just hit him. It’s like target practice, punch to the face, knuckles to the ribs, gun barrel to the stomach, gun stock to the temple, boot to the groin, steel rod to the legs.

They seem to beat him for his earlier transgression of fighting the fuck back. They beat his body, but not his mind. If Q gives up, the world will go to hell because he’s keeping the floodtide back here by himself.

He’s calculating in his head, wrapping code around himself like barbed wire, he stays as quiet as he can except when it hurts, he can’t stay quiet then and he hates himself for it, active lethal levels of self-loathing that he makes even a sound.

He calculates how long it will take for his captors to break him. He calculates how long it will take before they get imaginative. He calculates how long it will take them to hit the wrong key and cause the laptops to go up in smoke. He calculates how long it’ll be before Bond finishes the job. He calculates how long it’ll be before Bond realizes Q isn’t enjoying his trip to Copenhagen.

He calculates how long he’ll stay conscious, then after he passes out and they wake him with freezing ice water, he calculates how long it’ll be before he drowns, before he swallows enough of his own blood to be sick, before his body shuts down.

He’s read that freezing to death is like going to sleep. It would be better than being on fire like he is right now; sometimes he thinks he smells smoke.

He wants his brain to go first.

His captors yell at him, keep him awake, tear the bag off so he’s staring at nothing but floodlights, then yank him back into the dark. He doesn’t know how long he’s been awake. His body won’t stop shaking. They take his shoes, cut his trousers off him to go through his pockets, rip off his buttons to check for transmitters. He can’t see anymore, he can’t feel his limbs, he can’t feel himself breathe, his blood has frozen to his skin, and he knows this ends with a bullet in his skull.

It ends with several bullets, none in him. It ends with Bond talking to him, voice like a stone club, heavy and hard and furious; warm hands on his iceblock body and then it’s as if he’s being electroshocked, all the blood rushing back too fast and he’s making noise because the pain is back, the pain is constant, it won’t fucking go away. Bond becomes steel bands holding him down and Q still cannot stop shaking or keening.

Voices.

He thinks Bond is pacing like a starving predator because he can’t see anymore and all he can hear are footsteps, back and forth back and forth, one two three four five quick-snap turn one two three four five. It’s soothing.

Q gives up and lets the world go to hell.

Later, Moneypenny stands by his bed and says, “No whips and chains. Rotten idea.”

“Rubbish idea,” he rasps at her and she nods, curt and short, like she’s about to cry, but she’s an ex-field agent, she won’t cry. She gives him his glasses, whole, unbroken.

“James thought you might want these,” she says, her hands hovering like sparrows.

(There’s nothing gentle about him.)

M says, “007 used more explosives this time. I don’t think that warehouse exists on a map anymore. Parts of the dock and shipyard as well. The Danes are not happy.” He gives a crooked smile, as if he shouldn’t be smiling. “Don’t upset a dangerous weapon, Q.”

“Sounds expensive, sir, I would never.”

He recovers, slowly, demanding and getting a laptop after four days of rest. Bond doesn’t show. M mutters something about loose ends and how petulant Bond’s being since “you aren’t there for him to yell at, he doesn’t like this other gent at all, you’ve bloody spoiled him, bad news all around.”

“He’s just angry he has to open doors all by himself,” Q points out and M laughs.

-

He has work to do. He changes his records and gets himself released early, then he goes home and tries to sleep. He can’t for at least a week.

Q can’t sleep until he again changes his records and goes in for active duty, stands stubborn at his post while his team offers him crossword puzzles and little piddling missions he could do in his sleep (if he could sleep).

He can’t sleep until Bond materializes in Q branch with three demolished laptops, a .50 BMG rifle, and a miniature model of Rodin’s The Thinker.

“Rodin was French,” Q says.

“Couldn’t find anything suitable in Copenhagen,” Bond says in a single clipped phrase. He shoves some hardware aside and sets the small statue near Q’s mug, turning it to face them at an angle, the Thinker thinking in offset profile.

Q hmms, “The rifle will do nicely.”

Bond keeps coming back, day after day, sitting in on a mundane mission Q is taking care of, more of a hacking job; he flicks through newspapers, makes a mess of Q’s hardware piles, drifts through the files scattered about the lab, and is generally a quiet menace. (Q doesn’t say anything because he’s tired, he tires quickly, though he’s getting stronger again, he’s not bloody fragile, he will beat anyone who says he is, he learned a few new tricks in Copenhagen.)

Then M says, “Go to Russia,” so Bond goes to Russia and Q goes to his desk and in his ear, Bond says, “Q, did I give you Markel’s head?”

Nyet,” Q replies. “I think I would’ve remembered that particular souvenir.”

“I’ll have to try harder next time.”

There’s the noise of airport traffic and Q says, “Have fun, 007.”

Spasibo.”

Q sleeps again.

-

Bond discovers a bottle of vodka waiting for him at his (newish) flat after three weeks of crashing through various parts of Saint Petersburg with Q in his head again.

I appreciate the shelter from the storm. Here, to keep you warm until help arrives. Q

He appears at Q branch at three in the morning; he’s there, he tells Q, because he can’t sleep and would rather shoot at paper targets (and in Q’s opinion, to obviously annoy Q). Q is there because he’s still decoding the shiny disc Bond fetched for him, which was harder than it should have been, as he tells Bond.

They watch Q type for a while, then Bond fiddles with his coat (no suit this time, he looks softer to Q, almost alien) and presents a box at Q’s elbow with deft flourish.

“Open it,” Bond orders and Q stops typing long enough to untie the ribbon.

A matryoshka doll. He methodically opens the dolls, down to the last miniscule one, the painting so exquisite in his hands.

“Peter and the Wolf,” Q says, a bit awed and Bond nods. He quotes something in Russian, the Cyrillic tumbling out in squares, and Q thinks for a second before translating.

“’Boys like me are not afraid of wolves.’”

“Is that because you secretly make exploding pens? I’d hate to arrive at Q branch to discover a day of national mourning because you chewed on the wrong pen.”

“Fuck off.”

“Gladly.”

Q feels ridiculous, but 007 is ridiculous and deserves any and all trouble for making Q panic as he followed a small red blip (BOND) on a wiry red map representing streets and alleys in a city 1,725 miles away, Q saying, ‘Do not go to the Hermitage, the Winter Palace does not need your destructive tendencies, are you listening to me?’ before someone shot at Bond at quite close range and left them both swearing like sailors.

Q feels ridiculous all the time now. He hides it in his button-down shirts and cardigans, in the speed of his fingers, behind his glasses, hides it behind his mug of tea because it covers his face.

Nestling the dolls back together, he says, “Boys like me really aren’t afraid of wolves.” Bond tips into his space, blue eyes and tired lines, his weight shifted a little to the right since he hurt his shoulder.

“The wolves are afraid of boys like you,” Bond says, then he presses in, presses his mouth to Q’s and Q kisses back because Bond deals in all measurements of time and never isn’t one Q wants to experience.

“Is this to keep me warm until help arrives,” he asks into the kiss and Bond kisses harder until Q gasps, says, “Does this mean you’re afraid of me.”

“Stop talking.”

“You are afraid of me.”

Bond bites him then and Q stops talking.

-

Q’s flat is closest because Bond barely remembers where his own flat is.

They have to be careful of CCTV feeds and the walking exhausted who still have eyes in their heads as they either go home or come in for work. They have to be careful of Bond’s enemies and Q’s skillset, or maybe Bond’s skillset and Q’s enemies, or both.

They have to be careful of Bond’s shoulder.

It’s all a rather somber affair, it’s raining again in London and Q has his umbrella, Bond’s mouth red in a half-smile as he says, “Umbrellas make for excellent cover,” and Q laughs, “You have ulterior motives for everything, even defenseless umbrellas. Why should I trust you.”

Bond’s gaze goes sharp and Q sticks his tongue between his teeth, waiting, it’s a joke and it’s a sort of truth because he knows Bond’s record, he doesn’t expect to be much other than a way to find sleep and a moment of oblivion, he knows he’s a pleasurable turn of events. He trusts Bond to destroy a vault, break into a lab, seduce the general’s mistress for a keycard, run and run and run and run and run. He trusts Bond to come back alive and bring Q highly-dangerous things to play with, and he trusts him to unbutton his jacket, put elbows on Q’s table, and say the most inane shit, ‘Carnivale isn’t the same without you, Q.’

“You haven’t weaponized your umbrella yet? I’m disappointed,” is the reply Q gets from Bond, a hand on the small of his back, then Bond tugs the umbrella over both of them, the Union Jack hiding their heavy kiss.

They have to be careful.

(And they have to be careful of Q’s furniture, “that is an antique, you should have more respect for things your own age,” Q says, half-naked, hip pushed against a bookshelf and Bond smiles, all happy danger, “you should have more respect for your elders, whelp.”

Q tries to step out of his trousers, but Bond’s holding him hostage and in exasperation, he huffs, “How dare you use the obvious insult.”

“How dare you—“

But Q presses teeth to the bruises on Bond’s arm and Bond changes tactics, “Bloody hell, you’re dangerous, why should I trust you,” hand tight in Q’s dark hair and Q grins, all happy danger, “Are you sure medical cleared you for active duty?”

They break a vase and a lamp. For once, they’ve broken something that is not international law.)

-

The man is 007, he is also Bond, he is finally James.

-

Two weeks later, two weeks of almost daily sleeping together, a few rounds of shagging thrown in, but actually sleeping, exhaustion and weird hours and insomnia chaining them to each other, and M looks at them, says, “You two work exceptionally well together, I’m glad we can get something done right around here.”

Bond rocks on his heels and Q shuffles the mission objective papers in his hands, then M says, “But fun’s over.”

“Pardon, sir?” Q asks. His hands don’t shake because Bond said into his collarbone that morning, ‘No one cares who we fuck,’ and Q replied, ‘Only until we try to kill each other. Skillsets and all that,’ and Bond snorted, said, ‘Q, you’ll kill me first.’ Q wanted to say something well-worn, Why, James, because you’re ancient, but then the phone rang and now M is saying, “Fun’s over, those papers you’re holding, we have a terrorist cell sitting in Cannes of all places, guess everyone needs a little sand and sun from time to time.”

“Ah,” Q says. Hands behind his back, Bond smirks at his shoes. “Well, let’s get started then, shall we.”

M rearranges the piles on his desk, “Where in the hell is my pen – ah, yes, Cannes, terrorists, make the world a little safer, etc. etc. but please no defacing the city and nothing outlandish like rockets to the moon. And Q, I like your umbrella. Does it fire rounds?”

Laughing, Bond abandons Q in M’s office, the git, and Moneypenny is smiling her sideways smile, the one that says she’s secretly pleased with something; she says, “Good morning, Q,” a pastry by her keyboard because Q and Bond had (carefully) stopped at the bakery for breakfast and Bond said, ‘Everything’s easier when you have a co-conspirator,’ and Q said, ‘Oh, you mean a friend.’

“Good morning, Eve. How’s the chocolate éclair.”

“Divine,” Moneypenny says, sighing a little, chocolate on her fingertips. “Though I wouldn’t make baked goods a habit. Protection payment can take many forms.”

“I think I’m afraid of you,” Q says, eyes wide and she laughs, flicks pastry flakes at him.

In the armory, Q hands Bond his Walther and an ankle knife. He gives him the radio and a silent castigating glare and it seems odd to be sending him off on another ‘shitty excursion,’ as Bond calls them, but nothing’s changed, Q tries to tell himself that every morning (afternoon, evening, whenever he wakes): nothing’s changed.

Everyone lies to themselves.

Blue eyes like pieces of sky and Bond says, “It’s possible I might have to—“

“Complicate my job, I know, 007, it wouldn’t be a mission of ours if you didn’t make a mess in some way,” Q says, curling his fingers up into the bottom of his jumper sleeves. “I’ll be behind you with a broom.”

Bond holsters the Walther, blank expression on his face, then he sets Q’s glasses on the top of his head, so Q has to blink at him (his eyes still hurt from time to time, tiny cuts at the edges like worry lines). “Fucking and fighting my way around the world,” he says, black underlining the words.

“Yes, well, you’re a dull creature of habit. You gather intelligence how you can, since your own is rather limited.” He smiles. This is a discussion Q didn’t want to have because he’s lucky enough to have held Bond’s attention for this long (and nothing’s changed, layers and lies); Bond’s heaven-favored lucky enough to have Q’s attention constantly, for all the good it does either of them.

“I dislike funerals, especially my own,” Bond says and Q swallows.

“Funerals are rather dismal affairs. And I look even more translucent in all black,” he replies.

“I’ll see you when I get back, Q.”

“I’ll see you on the security camera feeds, 007.”

Then Bond drags the glasses back down to Q’s nose and kisses him, as if he’s sealing something into Q’s mouth, something he intends to reclaim later.

Later is a time frame Q can work with.

-

The man is James, but he’s also Bond, and he is (identity unknown) 007.

-

Q blanks out everything else from his mind, calling up maps and blueprints with a touch, laying out virtual breadcrumbs and real-world security traps, he springs Bond from prison at one point.

All for the information he hoards like a dragon with gold.

There’s a flight from Mexico City somewhere in the air over the Atlantic and Q stands elsewhere deep in the layers of the heart of London. He watches his monitors and creates various algorithms, some to help him cheat at crossword puzzles, some to help him cheat the security systems at an embassy building. (He is not waiting. Waiting costs him too much. There is no time for waiting.)

Eventually, Q is typing, head tipped at a particular snarl of program lines, and there are footsteps, the clicking of expensive shoes on stone. He locks the doors.

A polite knocking behind him on the glass. Which becomes a pounding of a fist. Then that might be the butt of a gun.

When he turns around, Bond has drawn bead on the door handle and his stance is ready weapons fire. Q sighs, rolls his eyes, and unlocks the door. (After all, he isn’t six, Bond isn’t six, this isn’t a playground.)

“In a strop, Q?”

“Thought it might be a threat, 007, wasn’t sure who it was.”

“You have cameras for that.”

“Ah.” Q shrugs his shoulders (and he remembers Moneypenny stopping by earlier in the day, after the flight from Mexico City went wheels up off the tarmac; she patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘I’ve been out there with James. I know what it’s like. People think you have no understanding, but you do, don’t you.’ He shrugged then too and she smiled, squeezing his arm. ‘He comes back from the dead when you speak. Like a conjurer.’

‘As is befitting any good Shakespeare character,’ he said.

‘He comes back because you make sure he comes back, I hope you realize that. He comes back to you.’

‘And he most likely hates me for it.’

‘Maybe you should ask him.’

‘Maybe you need more chocolate éclairs,’ Q said. ‘Stop you from talking.’ She laughed, low, because she knew he’d give her pastries every day for the next three months if he had to.)

Now, Bond is leaning against his desk, hands in his pockets, as if he hasn’t just finished wreaking havoc and sleeping in a perfumed bedroom in some foreign country, still the same little nonchalant schoolboy, his knee pressed against Q’s leg.

“Mission accomplished. Random object retrieved, enemy down, operative returned home in one piece,” he says.

Q nods. “Just another day at the office.”

Bond gives a short laugh. “We work well together.” He slides a hand over Q’s back and it’s the warmth Q feels before the touch.

He clears his throat and Bond says, “I believe you have something of mine.”

“I believe you have something of mine,” Q balances, so Bond checks Q’s mug (dry as a bone, forgotten) and puts the gun in it. “Well done, 007.”

“Congratulations are in order,” Bond says and Q kisses him, fuck the bloody cameras, fuck being careful, fuck the sodding world, Bond was in someone else’s bed for the good of Queen and country (and Q, protecting Q, always protecting Q), and he bites down on Bond’s mouth and Bond kisses him, reclaiming the taste he licked into Q before he left. Q grabs his wrists to hold him close (he should tie those wrists, he just might), then he notices.

“You lost your watch, James.”

“Boa constrictor,” Bond says in a kiss, falling back and letting Q push him against a wall. “It also killed the woman you’re so jealous of.”

“Not jealous. Murderous.”

“That’s what I prefer.”

-

He is irrevocably James. (Bond and 007 are his shadows. They can fucking well stay there.)

-

On Q’s desk, shoved between two laptops, is a box. He opens it, glancing at the Thinker beside his mug.

A calavera, porcelain, a proper-sized replica of the human skull, painted in reds and blacks and whites, dusky blue around the eyes, deep green around the mouth, flowers and spades and wandering vines.

“Seemed appropriate,” Bond says, almost appearing out of thin air.

“’I can call spirits from the vasty deep’,” quotes Q and Bond laughs, fist curling hard against Q’s hipbone.

“’But will they come when you do call them’,” he quote-answers.

“Well, you are here,” Q says and he can see everything now, he knows he can trust Bond with this, he’s caught Bond’s attention and held it and he won’t lose it. The skull stares at him and he stares back, his body taking Bond’s weight as the agent leans surreptitiously against him; they are death dealers and they won’t cheat death, they’ll just outrun it for a long time because Q won’t stop and Bond can run for miles.

They have death in their pasts, present, future; they’ve had their funerals and they have their ghosts. They will have ghosts, living and dead.

(M said, ‘Orphans make the best recruits.’)

Bond is watching him, half-smile, and Q smiles for the two of them. They know how to deal with ghosts, living and dead.

He clears his throat and slides fingers under Bond’s suit jacket, across his belly.

-

“Keep me alive, Q,” Bond says.

“I will if you stop trying to die, 007.”

“Just open the bloody vault.”

Gunfire, like pure shreds of metal and Bond curses. His distress beacon goes off.

“Bring me back,” he says through a tear of bullets, then radio silence.

It takes Q four days to find him and another two days to machinate a series of controlled gas explosions and an extra two days for the military transport to get Bond out. Q monitors their every step, opens gates and disables bridges, and somehow, stops tanks in their tracks.

Q doesn’t sleep. He plays Risk on a real-world map for a single red dot on his monitor.

He shakes his hands out and drinks tea gone cold, then visits Bond in medical.

“Brought you back,” Q says, “I don’t suppose you’ll stay for long. Good health should be a priority.”

Wincing, Bond tests his knee, his shoulder, his wrist. “You make a convincing argument.”

“I haven’t even begun to argue—“

“You make a convincing argument.”

The bastard is smirking at him and Q crosses his arms. “You jumped off a rooftop again, didn’t you.”

-

Bond is asleep in Q’s bed, curled on his side. Q watches him from the doorway and thinks, There’s a weapon in my bed.

He settles down cross-legged, book on his knee, and Bond wakes at the shift of the mattress, rolling over to stare at the ceiling, a hand on his scarred chest.

“M claims you went on a shooting spree,” Q reports, “though I told him it was somewhat justified as they were shooting at you. Return fire and survival tactics, it is what keeps you alive.”

“Bullets cost money,” Bond replies, voice still lost with sleep.

“So does corpse disposal.” Q wriggles to get more comfortable and ends up with Bond’s head resting on his thigh. “It’s a lot of work to make people disappear.”

He sips his tea and finds his bookmark and Bond is looking at him, eyes wide with surprise.

“You’ve never disposed of a body.”

Q is amused. “How do you know. We do test our weapons first, 007.”

“Bloody hell, you are dangerous. When you kill me, Q, don’t warn me, just do it.”

And that isn’t the truth, Q won’t let Bond die and Bond won’t leave Q to wonder if he’s dead, but it’s always good to have the upper hand. Q shows his teeth.

“I just might. Next time you decide it’s easiest to attempt to seduce the commandant’s daughter and then you get caught, all in a matter of minutes, it’s appalling—“

“Decidedly not jealous.”

“Murderous,” Q frowns.

“Corpse disposal.”

“It happens when you aren’t innovative enough in your job planning. I’m more homicidal than I used to be and the uptick started around the time I met you.”

“A big fucking lie. Pyjamas. Earl Grey. Maybe I like the thought of you homicidal,” Bond laughs and it’s raining in London and Q feels his palms start to sweat as Bond sits up, the sheets falling away to show his nakedness. He takes the book from Q, steals his tea as well, and Q stands his ground, metaphorically, though he’s laid hands on Bond’s face, when did that happen.

“I know where you keep your gun, James.”

“I know where you keep your laptop, Q.”