This was not at all how Q had foreseen his overnight at James and Alec’s dorm going.
‘Help!’ Q struggled, his telepathic wailing hopefully loud enough to garner attention from the sleeping, half-skilled Telepath in the next room, ‘Help! James, I’ve made a terrible error in judgment!’
In reality, the situation wasn’t life-threatening, but ‘ego-threatening’ would definitely be an accurate description as Q - very much in feline form - fought to get loose of the shirtsleeve he’d foolishly crawled into.
James and Alec came and left at all hours, and often clothing was discarded in the manner of university boys: everywhere. This hadn’t meant much to the boffin at first, when he’d declined Alec’s offer to go out on the town and had instead shifted shape and enjoyed the gentle sensation of Bond stroking a finger between his shoulder-blades until the blond-haired young man had fallen asleep. Q, unfortunately, hadn’t fallen asleep. In a rare moment of insomniatic energeticness that perhaps resembled the actions of real cats more than he wanted to contemplate, Q had left the sleeping Telepath in the other room and had decided to use his night vision for a bit - long-story-short, he’d seen the pullover on the bathroom floor and had tried to wriggle through the sleeve, using his whiskers for his only source of navigation, but had massively miscalculated. Now with nothing but his head sticking out and the rest of his fluffy little body cocooned in the sleeve, Q was stuck. Very stuck.
Of course, the only thing worse than fearing that he’d be stuck this way forever was James actually hearing him. Bond roused with a snort of surprise and rolled loudly off the bed. For a spy-in-training, James could be quite loud sometimes, but perhaps that was what a telepathic cry for help did to guy like James when he was so deeply asleep. Either way, Q heard a sleep-rough voice muttering, “Q…? Where the hell are…?”
Suddenly Q wasn’t sure he wanted to be found at all, considering his compromising position, and he stopped his mewling in favor of staring at the door with huge eyes and flared whiskers. It was too late by then, of course - even fresh out of sleep, James was pretty good at echolocating, and he and Alec both were quite well trained to follow Q’s high-pitched meowing under all circumstances. The bathroom door opened and light flooded in. James was rubbing a hand over his face, but froze with it over his mouth, blue eyes abruptly blinking and coming more awake as they focused down on Q. “What the…?” he stopped another sentence midway through.
Telepath and shapeshifter stared at one another. James with his hair sticking up on one side from sleeping on it should have looked ridiculous, but with his own head protruding from a grey pullover-sleeve like a half-emerged flower from a seed-casing, Q had the monopoly on ridiculous. Inevitably, James started laughing, and before long he was leaning against the doorframe just to stay upright. Q tried to lash his tail to express his anger, but it was impossible - too much cloth was wrapped around him - so he switched to mental expressions of temper. ‘James, you bastard, stop laughing and free me!’ Q demanded, which only made Bond laugh louder, clearly hearing him.
“I’m-I’m sorry, Q, you just…” James had to pause for more chortling, very nearly in tears from laughter and barely managing to get hold of himself, “You look like an angry sausage with whiskers. I’m just…” Suddenly James turned his head, a split-second before the door opened as his telepathy gave him an early warning of a new arrival. For his part, Q’s eyes got dinner-plate huge and his ears flattened back.
Alec was home now, too.
James finally lost his war with balance and gravity and slid to his knees, laughter renewed nearly to the point of howling. A bit alarmed, Alec’s footsteps immediately came their way, while Q growled and thrashed, not succeeding in freeing himself but managing to tip over onto his back instead. “James, what the hell is going on? Are you choking on someth- Oh god.” Alec made a coughing noise as he, too, tried to swallow back sudden laughter. “That was not what I expected to happen when I left my pullover on the floor.” Alec, now standing over James, grinned so broadly that Q thought his face would split. He hoped it would split. From his inverted position, Q bared his little teeth and did his best viper-hiss, the deep throaty kind that actually just about reached crocodile-levels this time.
That finally spurred James into action, and he calmed his good humor a bit. Smirking still and with his chest still jerking in silent amusement, he didn’t get up so much as scoot forward on his knees, reaching out for his feline-shaped friend.
“Careful there, James, he looks mad,” Alec snickered, then added teasingly, “Of course, it’s not like he can claw you like that.” Trevelyan flicked a finger towards where all four of Q’s feet were thoroughly encased along with the rest of him, a simple straightjacket keeping him contained.
“If you think he looks mad, you should hear what he’s thinking,” James retorted wryly. His hands sussed out the situation now with gentle touches, feeling Q’s wriggling body through the cloth and also being kind enough to tip Q into an upright position again. Just to prove that he really was cautious of Q’s temper right now, though, his hand moved very warily when he ran it along Q’s head and to his neck, within range of the boffin’s teeth. Q made an uncertain grumbling noise, but James was just feeling how much room there was between Q’s body and the cuff of the sleeve. Q didn’t even try and bite him because that would be just rude (despite his predicament and shape, Q was still his polite, human self beneath it all), and because James with an injured hand would be slower to get him loose.
“Exactly,” James opined, proving that his telepathy was working and replying to Q’s latest thought. Then his brows furrowed, and he managed to ask a sensible question at long last, “How the hell did you get yourself into this position?”
Q looked away moodily, wishing that he weren’t in such an undignified position; his ears folded back against his skull, brushing against where James’s hand was still resting behind his head. ‘I was testing how accurate the depth-perception of my whiskers are,’ he thought his reply, trying to leave out the part where he’d also been just plain reckless. He’d read that cats could negotiate tight spots by touch alone, their whiskers telling them if they could fit through a space or not. Seeing as Q still couldn’t work his tail fifty-percent of the time, he perhaps shouldn’t have been experimenting with his whiskers.
“Here, I’ll hold the sleeve - you pull on our trapped feline friend,” Alec offered at long last, and soon he was kneeling in the bathroom, too. James agreed and Q meowed sharply as he felt James’s hand tighten against his neck, momentarily making Q feel claustrophobic as both Q and a large hand vied for space inside a tube of snug cloth. Soon, though, Bond’s skilled, calloused fingers were able to get a modest grip on Q’s scruff, and moments later Q felt like he was being extruded out a straw. Becoming incredibly light and helpless in Bond’s grip, Q was dragged easily forward, limbs popping out in sets of two until he’d regained his freedom again. Q’s paws skidded against the smooth floor, enjoying the ability to splay a little even as his nerve endings tingled with the lack of anything pressing in around him.
“So how did he say he got in there?” Alec asked James, holding up the now-empty sleeve speculatively, eyes curious.
Bond’s mouth twitched in a slightly fiendish smile as he let go of Q’s nape, allowing Q to stand on his own and stretch a bit more. “He said it was for science,” James summarized, then glanced up at Alec, “I think that he was testing whether curiosity really would kill the cat.”
That, predictably, set off another barrage of laughter, and Q considered getting stroppy about the whole thing but ultimately gave up on the idea. He was, after all, free thanks to those two jokesters. Instead of hissing Q simply sat down, rolling his eyes expressively. His decision to be benevolent might have had a lot to do with the fact that James started to brush Q’s ruffled fur flat again with his fingertips, making him look less ridiculous, and Alec was folding up his pullover to prevent any further scientific incidents.
‘I’m not really a cat, you know,’ Q griped when everyone tried to go back to bed again, Q still small and four-legged and Alec and Bond both settled down now that the laughter had ended. ‘Even if I do catlike things.’
“I know, Q,” Bond murmured, flicking off the bedside lamp even though that wouldn’t hide his smirk from Q’s night-sharp eyes. Alec squawked because he wasn’t done undressing yet - a remarkably corvine noise despite the fact that he was totally human right now and halfway out of his shirt. James ignored him just as Alec was ignoring the half-verbal conversation that was going on between the Telepath and their resident cat-shifter-boffin. “But you realize, that just makes it even funnier when you act like a cat,” James added with impish glee even as he patiently waited for Q to jump onto the bed first. James’s eyes had to be as useless now as Alec’s, but his hearing was good, and Q always made a rather ungraceful thump as he jumped up onto places. He was, after all, just young man in a cat’s body - and a rather small cat’s body at that.
Q made a gruff little noise at James in response, but didn’t bother to formulate an actual argument. In truth, he was just warmed and a bit relieved by how easily James had accepted the important part of Q’s argument: that he wasn’t anything less intelligent or less human when he was goofing off on four legs. Those four legs tensed and released, and Q sprang up onto the bed with the minimal amount of clumsiness, claws digging into the sheet.
With that reassuring thought in mind, and now tired out from his adventures, Q stayed out of the way while James settled under the covers himself, then bedded down on an empty stretch of pillow. With each inhale, Q’s flank brushed the tufts of wheat-blond hair still sticking up in unruly spikes from Bond’s head.
A week later, Q was just coming home from a bit of freelance computer-fixing (because despite popular opinion, he was employed in that capacity by more people than just James) when he got a text from exactly the technology-destroying Telepath in question. Puzzled but pleased, because whatever he had with Bond, it made Q happy, the boffin stopped on his way to the tube and turned on his phone to read with quick flicks of his eyes. It was a pretty brief text, and made Q’s brows furrow immediately in the first stirrings of worry: ~I need to c u. Come 2 the dorms~
It wasn’t entirely abnormal for Bond to ignore spelling in favor of speed, but usually he took the time to explain himself a little more. Still, a glance around at the signs informed Q that he wasn’t far off from the building where Alec and James lived, so he turned his trainers in that direction and began walking. It was a cool evening, but not uncomfortably so with his jacket snuggled up tight, and at least it wasn’t drizzling anymore. Shadows were descending for the night and Q could just see the corner of Bond and Alec’s building when, suddenly, something snaked out of the shadows from so close to his right that he barely had time to blink. His cry of surprise was perfectly muffled by a gloved hand over his mouth, and another hand fisted in his backpack, pulling him sideways and abruptly into the alleyway he’d just been passing but had barely deigned to notice. Q struggled, heartbeat rabbiting in his chest as he realized that this new location would be entirely invisible to anyone on the street or even the sidewalk. His own hands weren’t sufficiently strong enough to pry the hand away from his mouth, even before his attacker’s other arm swiftly transferred to wrap around him, further constricting his movements. Q made a muffled, startled noise even as an iron grip pinioned his arms with the bespectacled young man’s backpack trapped between his back and the stronger body holding him.
“Q! Stop moving, it’s me!” a voice hissed in his ear, hushed and sharp in a way that made Q freeze even as he struggled to recognize it. Completely still now save for panting breaths that rushed out his nose and a heart that was dead-set on breaking out of his ribcage, Q tried to get a look at who’d grabbed him, because whoever it was knew the nickname he liked to be called. When Q couldn’t put a face to the steely, quiet voice in the next second, however - adrenalin admittedly making logical thought hard - Q started thrashing all over again, with renewed vigor. This time, the body behind him pivoted in response, switching their position with disorienting speed while also pulling Q further into the shadows. Just as Q squeaked in alarm, hand still over his mouth and a wall now fetching up hard behind him, the attacker rearranged them so that he was standing in front of Q, and finally they were face to face. Recognition dawned in a snap: James. James had him.
Still just about scared out of his skin and wishing that Bond’s telepathy worked better when there were no animal forms involved (with the exception of very rare occasions, James was still pants at reading human minds) because Q was screaming questions in his head, the boffin nonetheless subsided. He only blinked and froze as James leaned in very close, putting them disconcertingly chest-to-chest while the blond-haired boy spoke in a whisper right against Q’s ear, “There’s someone with very sharp ears listening, so I need you to be silent, okay?”
Only now did Q manage to wrap his head around Bond’s eerily calm, hard tone, also recollecting him using that same tone when Q’s roommate had tangled with a miffed drug-dealer - and then both of them had nearly tangled with an unexpectedly dangerous James Bond. Sometimes it was hard to remember that James and Alec were both spies in training, but right now it was surprisingly easy. It made Q shiver.
James continued, his mouth almost brushing the shell of Q’s ear and speaking so softly that the words were still barely audible, “I’m going to let go now, and I want you to follow me. I’ll answer everything after we get further away, I swear. Nod if you understand.”
One long-fingered hand curled around James’s wrist and the other pressed flat against the brick behind them, Q paused a moment and considered the pros and cons of hyperventilating. Then, against his better judgment, the dark-haired boffin nodded. The gloved fingers immediately fell away from his mouth, and James himself stepped back enough for Q to see familiar, intense blue eyes again, and a familiar, muscled frame wrapped in dark-wash jeans and a black leather jacket. The blond-haired young man looked alert in a way that Q had never seen him before, like a fox either listening for prey or perhaps listening for a hunter’s hounds. In the gloom of the alley, his eyes looked almost like colored glass, efficient and inhuman. When Q glared and scowled at him, however, those eyes suddenly turned normal again, the face around them also easing into a rueful, apologetic expression.
True to Bond’s word, however, no more words were forthcoming, but thankfully there was no more jumping out of shadows or unexpected grabbing. Instead, James just beckoned Q to follow him and began moving deeper into the alleyway. There was a flicker of rebelliousness that had Q clenching his fists for a moment, but he then felt an equally strong buzz of what might have been interest - the same curiosity that had gotten him stuck in discarded clothing rose up again now, helping him forget the scare he’d just had. Q conveniently pushed aside the memory of being trapped in Alec’s pullover and hiked his bag further up on his back. Mimicking Bond’s quiet steps as best he could, Q followed his older friend deeper into the shadows, and the unknown of whatever he’d just been dragged into.
They managed to move in near-silence, and James seemed to know where he was going. The one time Q looked back the way they’d come, slowing, Bond reached back and snagged his sleeve to tug him along. Meaningful glances were all they were able to exchange, and Q still had nothing but questions by the time James zeroed in on doorway that Q would have missed in the dark. The in-training spy began twisting the door handle with carefully applied force, and Q resisted the urge to ask whether James was breaking and entering. On top of all the other weirdness already occurring, it hardly seemed like a pressing matter. With a hushed grunt, 007 forced the door open, peaking in before labeling the coast clear and gesturing Q after him. The place smelled dusty and old, and Q itched to change shape if only because it offered him night-vision, although his Gift had done nothing to make him at ease around mice, which he imagined he could hear scurrying around somewhere in the dark. James had a small torch on him, thankfully, although he hid most of its light against his fingers when he turned it on to help them navigate. It looked like the whole floor was under renovation, or had been at one point, but then left to stagnate.
Bond lifted a finger to his lips, visually requesting silence for just a little bit longer. ‘James, if you can hear me, you’re a bastard, and you’re lucky that I trust you,’ Q thought even as he pursed his lips together and bit back all of his verbal questions. The other young man blinked and refocused his eyes on Q a little, but before he gave away any other indications that he’d heard Q telepathically, James turned back and was moving again. By the time they finally exited the abandoned building, Q not only had no idea where they were anymore, but was just about to explode from pent-up confusion and frustration.
Therefore, when they reentered society by stepping out another door and into a busy sidewalk, James barely managed to open his mouth before Q was breaking his silence.
“Okay, Q, now-” James started, eyes restlessly watching the evening crowd of people.
It was a miracle that Q kept his voice down to a furious, fervent hiss instead of an attention-grabbing scream, rounding on his mysterious companion, “What. The. Hell. Is going on?!” By the time Q finished his sentence, the lanky boffin was virtually standing on Bond’s left shoe, crowding up to him while people largely ignored them in the late-evening gloom.
James winced, once again having the good grace to look a bit sorry as he stopped scanning his surroundings to glance at his companion. He seemed to take a second to notice Q’s closeness, in which Q realized what he was doing as well: Q’s chest was literally brushing Bond’s arm, a very intimidating bit of posturing for someone who didn’t have a fraction of James’s musculature and brawling experience. “Training,” James answered after a beat.
That startled Q for only a moment; he backed off a few inches, blinked, then asked for clarification in a warrier tone, “Is this the kind of training that I think you’re talking about? Because I’m pretty sure that I shouldn’t be involved in that.”
“It’s exactly what you’re thinking about,” James answered smoothly, surprising Q with his forthrightness. “Come on, I’ll explain while we walk, because standing out right now is not a good idea, and we’ll blend in better if we’re moving.” With that, James began to amble, and Q scrambled to stay by his side. Before Q could voice his mounting exasperation at all of this, however, the blond-haired young man added, “I know that I’m stretching your patience, Q, but this really is important.”
“Fine,” Q huffed, clutching the strap of his bag but keeping pace as James subtly led them to an empty stretch of sidewalk. They were still in public, but no one nearby was likely to overhear them - except, perhaps, this person with super-hearing that Bond had mentioned. Q wondered if that had been a metaphor or a reference to a hyperauditory Gift. And whether Bond had cottoned on to Q’s thinning patience thanks to telepathy or good, old-fashioned observational skills. “So why’d you send me a text saying to meet you at your dorm and then jump me before I got there? You did send that text, didn’t you?” Q asked, a bit horrified as his imagination got away from him at the end, the implications making his thoughts whirl. What if someone else had sent that text, luring him in? What kind of trouble has Bond just saved him from? James and Alec rubbed shoulders with MI6 agents, after all-
“Easy, Q. I sent the text,” James reassured, responding to Q’s slightly panicked tone. “But I’ve got people following me, and they realized where I was going – and that I was trying to meet up with someone. I had to intercept you before they did, and make us both scarce.”
This was getting weirder and weirder, but the calm way that James was talking was reassuring: theoretically, so long as Bond wasn’t anxious, there wasn’t any pressing reason for Q to be. Yet. “You’ve got people following you? James, spit it out already - what the bloody hell is going on? And where’s Alec?”
Giving Q a little tug to indicate that they were going to cross the street, Bond kept talking while his eyes kept calmly moving. He was so alert that it was almost unreal to watch; James and Alec were both a lot craftier and more watchful than most of their university teachers gave them credit for, but this was the kind of alertness seen on hawks and prowling cats, super-aware and ready to act. James hid it behind half-lowered lids and a smooth voice. Now, he also cracked a crooked, roguish smile, actually startling Q a bit with the slice of humor, “Alec and I were tasked with basically playing Six’s version of ‘capture the flag.’ The game got off to a bad start, however, and now I’m down a partner. I still don’t plan to lose, however.”
The last sentence harbored all sorts of trouble, but Q focused on more important things for a moment. “So Alec got taken out of the game? Is he all right?” It felt ludicrous to call this all a game, considering that it was an MI6 training exercise, but James seemed to be treating it all quite lightly. Q wondered if James’s handlers had any idea about his general disregard for serious situations or dangerous circumstances – after all, James had faced down a drug-dealer while the man was openly wielding a shard of broken mirror for a weapon. Granted, James had been armed with a switchblade, but he’d acted like his greatest weapon was his determination to be ten times scarier and cockier than anyone else in the room.
James’s expression turned into an irked frown but he nodded in response to Q’s question. Grudgingly, he elaborated further after an amorous couple passed them and fell out of hearing range again, “The training exercise started in a pub down-town, where we were all told to meet after being told where our own ‘flags’ were hidden. Alec and I would have liked to hide it ourselves, but apparently at this stage in training, Six still want to be able to control some of the variables. Either way, the pub was a starting point to force both teams into close-quarters and get the game rolling. All we knew about our opponents were pictures of what they looked like, and they’d been given the same on us, presumably.” Still not telling Q Alec’s exact condition, James shrugged but at least acquiesced to continue his story, “It was decided that I’d use my skills to gather information, and Alec would be in charge of retrieval after I found out where the other team’s ‘flag’ was hidden.” Q didn’t need to ask how Bond would find that out, and James didn’t elaborate. While Bond appeared ridiculously willing to tell Q everything, he seemed to be watching his tongue in certain respects – namely, regarding mentions of his Gift. “Alec immediately found the girl, and I focused on her. Too late, though, we realized that her Gift included ears sharper than a fox’s, and his was an ability to change what his bloody face looked like.”
Q digested that for a moment, fascinated despite himself, and grudgingly forced to admit that a ‘game’ like this would do a good job of testing various espionage-related skills. James just let him think for a minute, patient but watchful. “That latter ability sounds like one of those the government likes to keep tabs on,” the dark-haired young man finally noted.
“It is,” James nodded, not needing to add, ‘Like mine.’ “The bloke can’t change anything but his face, but the trick still worked well enough that Alec didn’t see him coming. By the time I recognized that the pretty-faced thing next to Alec was actually a face-changing trainee out to get us, the damage was done. Alec is now back at a place we both know, and drugged all to hell.”
“Are you saying-?”
“They slipped something into his drink. So now I’m down a partner. He wasn’t given anything permanent or lethal, but it’ll be a bit before he stops seeing double,” James laid out in what was basically a growl. Looking obviously miffed, he went on, “At this point, I think that I’m supposed to forfeit, but Alec told me - before the slurring set in - that he’d ring my neck if I dropped us out of the game. I’m already on psychological probation anyway, so I’m inclined to play outside the rules to win.”
“You’re on psychological-? Wait, what?” Q suddenly had a deep sense of foreboding about what all of this was about and where it was going. “Did I really hear you say that you’re going to keep playing? James, pardon me for saying, but this sounds an awful lot like you want me to get involved.”
James turned his head and blinked at him innocently. “Yes. And?”
Q stopped walking and threw his hands up in the air, just barely remembering to keep his voice down, “And that’s insane!”
“No, it’s not,” James argued, looking befuddled by this reaction, sincerely so. It was like watching a dog standing over a pair of chewed shoes with no concept of guilt. The phrase ‘psychological probation’ was making more and more sense by the second.
“James, listen to me: you and Alec have training,” Q tried to break the problem down into simple, understandable terms, because right now his friend was being unreasonably dense, “Clearly not quite enough training, but still - it’s a minor miracle that I was able to keep up with you so far, and all we’ve been doing is sneaking around and dodging someone with a hyperauditory Gift. I assume that’s what you’ve been watching for?” Q emphasized the word, hoping that Bond understood the reference to his telepathy - Q could understand not wanting to say it out loud. The fact that James was an illegal Telepath was probably the only trump-card they had left. Fortunately, James was swift to nod, no trace of misunderstanding on his face. “James, there’s no way I can help you. I can’t stand in for Alec.”
“If you don’t, both Alec and I fail this test.”
“Stop going for the guilt-trip. It’s not a handsome look on you.”
“Then should I try flattery?” James went on without missing a beat, so utterly shameless that Q could only stare. Blithe and seemingly as sincere as a saint, the blond went on, “I can’t do this without you, Q - or without a partner who can do what you and Alec can.” Again, a word went unsaid: shape-shift. Both Alec and Q possessed forms other than their human ones. “I know where the other team’s flag is, and from now on, I’ll recognize the facial-morph no matter what face he fancies wearing. But no matter how good I get at information gathering, I can’t make myself quiet enough to get past that girl.”
“Shit,” Q swore involuntarily as he realized exactly what James was getting at. His eyes widened and he would have walked into a bench had not Bond subtly maneuvered them both to the left as they moved. “Alec was going to be the one to actually go in and get it while you provided back-up with your own Gift, and now you want me to do it.”
“You really are qualified,” James pointed out, no doubt referring to Q’s feline form.
“I’m really not.”
“But you’re curious, aren’t you?”
That last question, left hanging almost teasingly on the air, finally caused Q’s mind to halt… and restart. The memory of where curiosity had gotten him last time flashed into his head again, but beneath the initial flash of embarrassment, he recalled the little rush of fun and adrenalin he’d felt before he’d realized that he was stuck. He also remembered the two young men who’d helped him out of it, and that one of those young men was presently looking at him with guardedly hopeful eyes, and the other one was presently holed up somewhere, drugged. A surprisingly sharp flash of camaraderie and protectiveness reared its head inside Q. His spine straightened and his fists clenched without him noticing it.
“You just need me to fetch a flag, yes?” he clarified, tone going steady and flat in the same way that James’s had a habit of going cold and detached.
Those blue eyes were watching him keenly, and perhaps the start of an impressed smile ghosted across Bond’s controlled expression. “In a nutshell, yes. I’ll even provide a distraction if you want one.”
“All I care about is that you don’t let me get caught,” Q informed Bond succinctly, daring to poke him in one powerfully curved bicep, “because the last thing I want is to get netted by your employers for helping you.”
James’s smile spread as if he couldn’t help it, and he finally stopped walking to fold his arms over his chest. He faced Q, his expression dangerously Cheshire, “But you will help?”
Sighing, Q unslung his backpack from his shoulders, crouching down to dig into it. “Against my better judgment… yes. And I think I have something that might help, too. If I’m going to be involved in this, we’re going to do it as sanely and logically as possible.”
“Whatever you say, Q.”