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It's alarming truly how disarming you can be

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Bond lies supine, drifting. The surface under his body is soft, and there's a distinct pinch at his nostrils, the smell of disinfectant. He's probably not sprawled on the concrete floor of some warehouse waiting to die, so he can likely afford to postpone jumping to his feet and demanding to know where he is, what happened, and why he can't remember how the hell he got himself into this situation in the first place. Also, his whole body is one enormous ache that he'd rather not disturb at present, if he has a choice.

"...Is 125, slightly elevated, but that would be his body trying to combat the infection, and his blood pressure is 143 over 85, which according to his charts is almost normal. He'll be back on his feet soon, Colonel Mallory, not to worry."

"Thank you, Doctor..."

The voice is familiar, and safe. Bond doesn't bother opening his eyes; everything is so heavy, his eyelids, his arms, his whole body. He gives in and dozes.

---

"...Legionnaires' disease? Are you sure about that?"

A sigh. "Yes, Q, that's what the doctor said." Eve. And Q. How odd.

"I thought that was an old man disease."

"Not necessarily. Everyone's at risk, although people over fifty get the most severe symptoms. Bond will just feel like an elephant sat on him for a while. They're pumping him full of antibiotics. He'll be fine."

A pause. "How did he get it?" Q huffs, sounding frustrated.

"Lake water, M says. He probably had a few open wounds, or he swallowed some of it when he fell in."

M. Oh god, M. There's a pained groan from somewhere nearby; in the resulting charged silence, he allows that it might have come from him.

"I'll get Doctor Carlisle," Eve says quietly, sounding concerned.

"Yes, good," Q says. Bond can't read the emotion in his voice at all.

He thinks he's alone again. Normally he's perfectly happy with being by himself; normally, being by himself means there's no one around who could harm him. But he is in pain, and his heart hurts most of all, and if he's honest he'd really like to not be alone right now, if at all possible.

He knows he didn't make another noise, but moments later there's a touch on his hand, and long fingers curl through his own.

"You're all right," a soft voice says. "You're at Six Headquarters, you're safe here. Eve will be right back, and she'll bring the doctor with her."

Bond pries his eyelids open with an effort that makes him faintly nauseous. Everything is blurry; his very eyelashes ache. There is an indistinct form close to his bed, a hint of brown and yellow.

"Q?" he rasps.

The figure lets go of his hand, and Bond has to fight not to whimper and beg for it back. The figure rises, and a moment later a small, soft circle prods at Bond's lip.

"Drink," Q says. Bond obeys, but he can only manage a few sips before slumping back against the pillows. The straw is removed from his mouth, and he hears the quiet thunk of the glass being replaced on the table.

And then fingers slide around his again and settle, still and calm, anchoring him in this place, in this time. Exhausted and grateful beyond iteration, Bond drifts off even as the door handle rattles and turns.

---

He opens his eyes at last some interminable time later. The lighting is subdued, orange-tinted. It's night-time, it seems, though there are no windows in his room and there's no way for him to know. His eyes adjust much easier to this light, though, and at last he can take a good look around. Not that there's much to see -- his room is small, three metres by four, and there are two visitors' chairs against the wall, softer and more comfortable-looking than he remembers them being during his rare visits to the hospital as a boy. The room is empty but for the faint blips of machinery doing its job, monitoring his heart rate, his blood pressure, probably. His brain still feels fuzzy, but he's much more alert than he had been the first few times he'd come to. His chest does feel, hah, like an elephant sat on it and wiggled, but he can breathe, and that's reassuring enough for him.

Unfortunately, with clearer head comes recollection that Bond might have preferred not to have been so hasty to reappear. He blinks against the sudden sting of tears, and has to breathe through the lump in his throat as well as his aching chest. She's gone, and he had better take that in, let it settle, and move on before it breaks him beyond fixing. Funny, how he always thought he'd be the one to croak first.

The silence is so thick it's almost oppressive. There's no sound of traffic, of London going on around him, and he feels like the walls are closing in, like he might shake out of his own skin with nothing else to focus on but his thoughts (a situation he tries to avoid at all cost). He has to get out of there, has to find people, needs to hear voices around him, the snick of plates on tables, the crackle of keyboards pressed into use, the clunk of a mug being replaced over a desk. He just needs--

Footsteps down the corridor, and Bond is ready to call out and beg at this point. He clears his throat painfully, then starts coughing and can't stop. It hacks through him, trying to render his chest in half; how ironic it would be, a part of him muses, for him to die of suffocation in a hospital room with machines beeping peacefully at anyone who'd listen.

He's coughing so hard that he doesn't hear the footsteps hurry closer, or the door of his room snicking open. He just knows that there's a hand on his shoulder, keeping him steady, and another on his back, rubbing away the spasms.

Tears stream down his face by the time he can suck in a breath without setting off another fit, and he slumps back, knackered all over again. He lifts his hands to rub his face dry and nearly knocks over the glass his visitor is bringing to his mouth. He looks up to apologise, but the words die in his throat before they can get out.

"Hello, 007," Tanner says wryly, handing him the glass. Bond takes it and drinks, gathering his thoughts.

"Tanner," he ventures when he's done. "Good--I'm sorry, I don't know what time it is," he trails off, embarrassed.

The corner of Tanner's mouth quirks, but there's no humour in it. He looks utterly drained, wrung out, like he hasn't left Six in over a week.

"It's 23.40," he says after a cursory look at his watch. Bond lifts his eyebrows in surprise. Tanner sighs, going to lift his hand to his face and aborting the gesture midway. "I'm sorry, you probably want to rest, I should--" he waves at the door.

Bond is blurting 'No' before Tanner can finish speaking. "No, please. I've had just about as much rest as I can take."

Tanner stops looking like he's going to bolt, but he does look a little lost, like he doesn't quite know what he's doing here, or what he's supposed to do next.

"What day is it?" Bond asks, as much to make conversation as actually wanting to know.

Tanner tells him. It's four days after Skyfall.

"You collapsed in the helicopter, good thing there was a doctor on board, he diagnosed you. Legionnaires' disease."

Bond nods. "So I gathered." He doesn't say how. He's not sure he wants to share that information; doesn't know what to think of it just yet. "The--" He has to stop, swallow. He's not proud of it. "The funeral?"

Tanner's eyes, shadowed as they are, darken further. "This morning. We--it's been a, a long day."

Bond doesn't react, grits his teeth, doesn't let slip the miserable whimper that tries to come out. He doesn't ask how Tanner is, because that is blindingly obvious, and he's not in the habit of asking stupid questions.

"Everyone else?"

Tanner's mouth twitches. "No one's gone home. I tried to kick them out, but they called me a hypocrite, and, what can I say. They're right."

"So they're around here somewhere?"

"Six has never been this full in its existence, I shouldn't think."

Bond sighs, then looks at him, silently asking for--he doesn't even know what.

"Tanner. I have to get out of here."

Tanner opens his mouth, but closes it again on whatever he was going to say.

"Doctor Carlisle is going to wear my bollocks for earrings," he mutters. "Hang on."

He walks out, and comes back a moment later with a wheelchair. "Not a word, 007," he says as Bond starts to protest. "I'm breaking you out of medical, you'll shut up, get in that chair and be grateful."

"Sir," Bond sighs, and levers himself up. It takes far, far more effort than he'd expected to get out of the bed, even with Tanner's help, and he's panting and trying not to hack when he settles into the chair at last. Tanner takes care of the machines, silencing their incessant beeping with a flick of his fingers on the switch, and spreads a blanket over him that he'd unearthed from the small wardrobe in the corner. Then he steps behind the chair, hooking Bond's IV bag on the stand attached to the back.

And then they're moving. Tanner stops at the doorframe so Bond can check the coast is clear. He motions for Tanner to keep going, and they make their way towards the lift as silently as they can with one of the chair's wheels squeaking bloody murder. No one comes to investigate, thank god -- it might well be that Bond is the only patient down here right now. They take the lift even further down. When the doors swish open, Bond immediately recognises the wartime bunker chic of Q division. He refrains from asking what they're doing down here, and lets Tanner push him onwards. After just a few feet, he starts to hear the buzz of voices, and when they turn a corner, he can distinguish Eve's throaty laugh and Q's posh accent arguing a point. It comes as no surprise they're still here, really. They, like Tanner, like--yes, M was, are lifers. They don't leave when the workday is done.

Around another corner, and through the automatic doors that whoosh open, and Eve, Q and a slight Asian woman all swerve to look at the two of them.

"Eve. Q. 004," Bond greets them.

Mira rakes her eyes up and down his frame. "You look like death warmed up, 007," she says derisively, but he likes to think she means it kindly.

"That's because I am, didn't you hear?" he replies.

Mira sighs. "Always so dramatic."

"Isn't he?" Eve agrees, and even Q cracks a smile.

Bond thinks about taking offense as Tanner wheels him to a place at the table, but frankly he can't be bothered. "So where's the hard stuff?" he asks, casting a knowledgeable eye over the collection of bottles on the far side of the tabletop.

Q snorts. "The only hard stuff you're getting tonight is courtesy of the Prince of Wales," he says, getting up with just the slightest wobble and heading for the sideboard, where there's an electric kettle and several tins of tea and coffee lined up like they're on parade. He pries the top off of one and spoons a generous amount of leaves into a giant teapot that's standing guard over the troops.

They're all quiet while Q makes the tea and brings the teapot and five mugs to the table. Then he sits back in his chair and props his chin onto his hands, looking despondent. His hair, even longer now than before, hangs listlessly over his eyes hidden behind those awful hipster glasses. He is the picture of dejection, and Bond has no idea how to make it better, or even why he wants to.

Eve eyes the tea tray, then sighs and grins tiredly. "God, remember that time the cleaners broke M's Churchill mug? I thought she was going to sack the lot of us on the spot."

Tanner huffs a pathetic resemblance of a laugh, but he looks less worn, just for a moment. "The head of some American agency came to visit this one time, and offered M a cup of Nescafe. You haven't lived until you've--" he trails off, stricken, before he slumps in his seat. "Let's just say she wasn't pleased. It was like the Queen being offered a pint of bitter, 'No, thank you.' I had to leave the room so I wouldn't burst out laughing and ruin our reputation."

Even Bond smiles at that. He can just hear M's prim, sharp reprimand.

"She will be missed," Mira says. The 00's have a strange relationship with M; they are so rarely on the ground with the analysts and their superiors, but they also knew that when they had their back against the wall, M would have be standing right behind them, supporting them to the end. Only time will show whether the new M would take his place between his agents and the hard place; but from his actions at the Ministry hearing, Bond harbours hope.

Q pours the tea, and Eve adds a generous slug of whiskey into four of the mugs.

"Oh, come on," Bond whines, and for once he doesn't even care what he sounds like. "Eve, for god's sake."

"You're still on antibiotics," she maintains, but she doesn't sound as convinced.

Sensing victory, Bond prepares to lunge when Mira beats him to it. "Honey, you've seen his files. You honestly think letting him have a shot of booze will do anything to his liver he hasn't done to it himself?"

Bond wishes he had a leg to stand on so he could argue with her. In the end, Eve shrugs and pours a small measure in Bond's cup, too. Mira hands it to him, and Bond has a good mind to chug the lot in one go--but then Q, sitting across from him, twitches just a little, a tiny tell. Bond, looking straight at him, reads the worry in his eyes like it's written in big black letter all over his face. Confused, yet strangely pleased, he contents himself with sipping slowly. It's damn good tea. It warms him all the way through, for maybe the first time since he had crawled out of the freezing water of the lake his father had dammed one Spring morning a long, long time ago.

...Or, just maybe, he'd started warming up a little earlier, when slim fingers had wrapped around his own in the hospital bed, keeping him steady without even trying. He looks across the table at Q, who is looking straight back at him. After a moment, Q smiles, that breathtakingly sweet smile Bond had first glimpsed at the National Gallery: acknowledgement and acceptance in one small gesture.

Oh. All right, then? Bond sips his tea, and breathes, and tries to unpick the complicated tangle of emotions making his breath come short. He reads people for a living, but he couldn't read Q when they first met, even when he'd thought he had him bang to rights; nor later, either, in the heart of Q's territory, in this very building. Granted, they'd had more urgent matters to attend to, but a part of Bond's brain is always working, always evaluating, always looking for a weakness, finding out how people tick, where he can press to break them wide open. Not Q. Not when he didn't want to be read.

Now, it's like Q is handing him the cypher to break the message, neat and easy as you please, and the rush is--even by Bond's standards, it's something else.

What Bond does not, can't even begin to understand, is why. Why someone like Q, young, brilliant, devastatingly capable, just as dangerous as any field agent if not more so, would want to hand that clue over to someone like him. Who couldn't even keep M from being taken from them; who is like some kind of plague that infects everyone he touches until they have no other future but to die; who is nothing more than a blunt instrument to be pointed at Her Majesty's discretion. Oh, Bond has no illusions about what he is. Tainted. Dirty. Broken.

He shouldn't even be thinking about it. But he's a selfish creature, he always was, and he has no illusions about this, either; he will take it, for as long as it's on offer. Because he knows, like it's etched into his very bones: this time, this time he needs a hand coming back at all. Something to fight for, now that M is gone. And if Q will give him that, even when he doesn't know exactly what he is to Bond, then Bond will take it and shape himself around it, let it guide him out of the dark that lingers after every mission, every kill.

"I'll take him," Q says much, much later, and ignores Eve's pointed look and Tanner's furrowed eyebrows right along with Mira's knowing smirk. Bond can do little but blink at them in confusion before he's being turned around and pushed gently back the way he came. Proud as he is of his alcohol tolerance, mixing antibiotics with booze lowers it intolerably, and he is quite as pissed as he has ever been. The room sways a little as they turn the corner, and he lets his head slump back until it rests against something soft that doesn't feel like the back of a wheelchair. It's only when the welcoming surface lags back that he realises it was Q's stomach he'd pillowed his head against. He misses it immediately; but he doesn't feel he can ask for it back. He has done little enough to earn it, much less keep it. So he sighs forlornly to himself, and accepts his punishment.

But then, astonishingly, as Q wheels him out of the lift and back towards his room, the reassuring pressure of his body is back right where Bond needs it; selfishly, he takes it, lets his eyes close and just basks in the warmth.

It doesn't last long, of course, because here is his room, and here is the terrible hospital bed that is his due for at least a few more days, he expects -- he knows Six's doctors, and they are not letting him loose on the streets before they have extracted every last bit of sickness out of him. Q proves shockingly strong for someone so slight; his shoulder fits neatly under Bond's arm, in the crook of his body, so neatly that Bond feels it like a physical wrench when he moves away to let Bond slump onto the bed. Oh, yes, Bond is most thoroughly rat-arsed. He's kind of proud of himself, really. It's not often he can violate his body quite so well.

"You're leaving," he slurs as Q wordlessly tucks his covers around him and steps back. "Of course you are. Thank you for putting me to bed, that must have been a revolting experience."

He hears Q sigh, forces his eyes back open to watch him shake his head.

"Do you even listen to the words that come out of your mouth at all?" Q returns, perching lightly on the side of Bond's bed and watching him with a distressing amount of focus.

"I try not to," Bond admits.

"I surmised as much. 007, you have a rather irritating predilection for feeling sorry for yourself, did you know?"

Bond groans. "You're bantering," he accuses. "You're choosing to banter with me while I am too mentally incapacitated to keep up, Q, this is cruel and unusual punishment."

"It's so amusing that you think you could ever keep up with me," Q says, but while the words are nipping, the tone is kinder than Bond knows he deserves.

They are quiet after that, for long enough that Bond starts drifting out of sheer inability to keep awake. He fights it every step of the way; he wants to keep this for just a little while longer, the look in Q's eyes that is never pitying but so compassionate, so understanding. If anyone alive can understand him, other than Eve, Bond finds himself thinking (daft as the idea probably is), it's Q. Q looks at him, and Bond thinks Q can see all the way through him and out on the other side, except that can't be true because Q hasn't run away screaming. And yet, and yet...

Fingers wrap themselves around Bond's wrist, as if checking his pulse, even though the electrodes have been reattached and the machines are switched back on, so Q can hear his heartbeat loud and clear; perhaps especially the tiny hitch in it when his fingers stroke the inside of Bond's wrist.

"Do you have any idea what you're doing, Q?" Bond asks quietly, though he knows it's a mistake, something that will undoubtedly bring Q to his senses.

Q snorts. "God, you really are insufferable," he says, so much affection in his voice that it just does not make sense that it could possibly be directed at Bond. "If you even attempt to treat me as a child, 007, I will do things to you not even the most depraved villain would dare contemplate."

Bond hums, quite aware that he's taking his life in his hands when he smiles sweetly up at Q. He might spend his days risking that and more, but nothing has ever felt so exhilarating as Q sighing and leaning closer, brown eyes warm behind his lenses, so kind that Bond has to swallow past a lump that won't go away.

"Don't be an idiot," Q murmurs against his lips before he kisses them softly. "Of course I know what I'm doing. The question you should be asking is, why am I choosing to do it anyway?"

"I don't think I'm brave enough to know the answer to that," Bond answers, truthfully. Q grins at him, bright and sharp and so very alive, and it suddenly dawns on Bond that for all his derring-do and death-defying stunts, he has never thrown himself so fully into something the way Q seems to be doing every day of his life.

"You are the most exquisite creature," Bond murmurs, looking up at Q and seeing him as if for the first time, the elegant arch of his throat, the high cheekbones, the teasing slant of his eyes, the full Cupid's bow of his mouth smiling down at him. He raises his free hand and trails his thumb over the corner of it, along the hint of a dimple just to the side. Q's eyes flutter closed and he leans into the touch in such a simple, telling way that they both hear the beep as Bond's heart kicks up in his chest.

"Go to sleep, 007," Q orders easily, pulling back after no more than the briefest of moments, fingers trailing away from Bond's wrist to twine with his.

"You'll stay?" Bond says with no small surprise.

"I'll stay."

The bed is narrow, but when Q kicks off his shoes and climbs over Bond to curl up in the negative space left by his body, all Bond can do is shift a little and arrange his limbs so they fit Q's like a jigsaw puzzle, Q's head under his chin, one hand still holding Bond's across his middle, Bond's other arm draped over the arch of Q's spine, resting over his hip. One of Q's legs worms its way between Bond's, and all Bond can do is spread them and let it invade his space, welcome it inside.

"Sleep," Q murmurs once again, pressing a kiss to the side of Bond's neck, just over where his pulse beats a happy rhythm under his skin. Just maybe, there is life for him after all of this, all the horror, all the loss. Just maybe, there's still something to come home to.

Bond closes his eyes, and for once in his life does as he's told.