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Slow Dancing In A Burning Room

Chapter Text

Contrary to gossip about MI6 (such as it was), Q was not the youngest quartermaster in the history of the SIS.

He was 24 when he was recruited to Q branch, and promoted to his current position during the period when 007 was missing presumed dead, shortly after Q’s 26th birthday. Q’s record was beaten by the quartermaster who served during most of World War II, but in his mind, that man—that boy, really, all of 21 when he assumed the role—shouldn’t count: Ronald Hampshire was promoted out of necessity, plain and simple. When his father (the previous quartermaster) was killed during the Blitz, Ron was the person who knew most about his father’s inventions, both extant and in progress, so naturally Ron found himself as the new Q in his country’s time of need, and by all accounts served admirably. The current Q was better, of course. Being promoted in his youth for his merit (and despite the not-inconsiderable strikes against him) as opposed to out of necessity would prove that to anyone who thought to ask.

The real reason so many people focused on Q’s perceived youth was because he looked like a bloody child, like he shouldn’t yet be out of short trousers: floppy hair, thick glasses, skinny as a rail, boyish face, the occasional flare of spots (as Bond so helpfully pointed out). He was certainly more than capable of dressing himself--he wasn’t totally oblivious, he’d studied art and its history at Cambridge in between his main pursuits of computer science and engineering--but he had a rather eccentric personal style that did little to help defuse the appearance of youthful ineptitude. But any of his coworkers who made the mistake of discounting his ability because of his youth did so only the once, and often to their significant regret.

The first thing Q did upon his promotion was to single-handedly spearhead the effort to consolidate the R&D and IT sections of Q Branch, formerly autonomous of each other but now stepping on each other’s toes as often as not when it came to addressing the security and technology needs of their agents. As luck would have it, he succeeded in finally merging the two just in time for the explosion inside MI6 and the relocation to London’s nether-regions, and what with Silva running around causing pure havoc and M’s consequent death, Q had little enough time for a 00 agent who happened to specialize in resurrection. Save for their brief but admittedly memorable partnership in the middle of what was later dubbed Operation: Skyfall, Q saw next to nothing of 007 at all during the first four months of his tenure as Quartermaster.

All of this meant that when Bond did finally reappear, Q was blindsided by his massive, immediate, and utterly infuriating crush on him.

Being smitten with a grade-A git who also happened to be a famous womanizer and a dangerous killer rated pretty high on the “Bad Ideas” list, and since he bloody well wasn’t going to act on it, he did the stupidest possible thing he could think of and took it out on Bond. He took every opportunity to harass 007 that came his way, ragging him incessantly about his age (which wasn’t actually that old), his sexual conquests (that one was just as bad as advertised), and his admittedly obnoxious tendency of returning Q’s tech in considerably worse condition than it was sent off in… when Bond returned the tech at all, that is. Was it really that sodding difficult to not throw weapons worth more than what Q made in a year overboard at the drop of a hat?

Bond gave as good as he got, naturally. Not that there was any dearth of jail-bait jokes in Q’s life, but Bond had a particular knack for making Q feel as though he were actually five again and at his father’s knee, being told he was stupid for worrying about mummy’s worsening cough, that he was too young to understand. He wasn’t the first, of course. Q sometimes felt as though he’d spent his entire life being told by other people that he was too young: too young to understand, too young to cope, too young to deal with situations that were inevitably dumped on his shoulders by the very people who told him he had no right to be there.

Well, he was fucking here now. And here he would stay, until they pried his laptop from his stiff fingers and carried his body out on a slab.

* * * * *

“Fifty meters down the hallway, Bond, you’ll make a left turn,” Q said tersely. His fingers flew over his keyboard, watchful eyes glued to the screen above him as doors flew open ahead of a sprinting 007 and slammed shut in the faces of several of his pursuers. “Door to the landing pad, there’s a helicopter there waiting for you.”

“Has it got coffee?”

“Do I look like a bloody Pret-A-Manger to you? I trust you can pilot it.” Q exhaled, his gaze flicking down to his laptop screen to quickly work through the helicopter’s computer systems, and then the engine revved to life. Q could hear the thum-thum-thum of the blades over Bond’s intercom as Bond ran across the launch pad at the top of the fifty-story building he was trapped in.

Until the dot that said “BOND” abruptly stopped moving a scant few meters from the helicopter, and seconds later Q heard a tinny CRACK through the headset. “What the fuck was that?” he snapped. Q could see Tanner giving him the eyebrow from where he stood at the edge of Q’s desk, but he ignored it.

“Improvising,” Bond said curtly. “I was out of bullets.”

“Did you just throw the Beretta I gave you at Le Diable?” demanded Q incredulously. He watched the little red dot on his screen move towards and then cover the helicopter, and he could hear the roar of the engine in his ears as Bond threw open the throttle and maneuvered the chopper off the landing pad.

“You shouldn’t be so attached to material things, quartermaster,” said Bond into his ear. “By the way, devils apparently can’t fly.” Q wanted to reach through the airwaves and smack the smirk he knew would be there right off Bond’s face.

“You’re lucky it’s not all I’m attached to,” he muttered, and jabbed at the controls with rather more force than necessary. It was tough to know whether to be impressed or furious. He settled on ‘both.’

* * * * *

“What the bloody hell did you do to my mobile?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Q blandly. He did not look up from his screen; he already knew what the thunderclouds on Bond’s face would look like, having summoned the same expression just the week before when he’d rigged the security alarms in Bond’s building to go off at 3 in the morning and not turn off for love or money.

Bond threw the modified Android phone onto the desk next to Q. Q glanced down at it, and then up at the agent who hulked over him from less than a foot away. “Fix it,” said Bond, his voice as cold as the ice Q had nearly slipped on coming into work this morning. Q reached over and tapped through the unlock code on Bond’s mobile, and as he did a pop song by Britain’s most currently loathed boy-band blared to kitschy life. Q smiled, wide and daft.

“I don’t think I see the problem,” he said innocently. “I thought you loved that song.”

“So help me, Q, if you don’t fix my mobile—”

“Just throw it out like you do all your other expensive electronics,” Q cut in, and fixed his eyes on his computer screen again. “I’m busy.”

There was a pause, not unlike a hound deciding whether or not to bite the spiny hedgehog in front of it, and then Q heard Bond stalking away again, the door sliding shut behind him with a smug finality. Q smiled to himself, thin-lipped, and returned to his work.

Self-righteous bastard. Old dogs and new tricks, his arse.

* * * * *

As it turned out, Bond was a fast learner, despite the constant cracks Q made about Bond’s increasing senility. His return-rate on devices went up, however microscopically, and his working relationship with Q warmed to a degree less likely to have them both dying of hypothermia.

He did have lapses, though. Some worse than others. And while Q took his job and responsibilities seriously, he was not above making a point. When one of Bond’s missions destroyed a city block’s worth of buildings and the prototype of a compact self-repairing generator that would have powered half of London for a year along with it, the sprinkler system in Bond’s building mysteriously short-circuited in an extremely localized area. Q took a perverse satisfaction in exactly how high that laundry bill was (since of course he looked it up), to say nothing of the ruined furniture.

But instead of becoming increasingly more furious, Bond seemed—amused. Or rather, he actually started to pay attention. He started appearing in Q Branch on his days off, days when he had no reason at all to be there; before long Q was seeing more of him than almost all the rest of the 00’s combined. Q couldn’t for the life of him think why.

Of course, when 007 was looming over you like some kind of dapper gargoyle while you were trying to code, thinking was harder. Or rather, thinking of things that didn’t involve James Bond naked and splayed out on Q’s desk was harder.

Still, all things considered, Q was settling in nicely at his new position. The spotty teenager comments had dropped off considerably, his team of programmers and techs were honestly brilliant, the field agents and 00 agents in particular were learning not to mistrust all technology as signs of their impending replacement, and he was thrilled to be working in close proximity with Eve again. They’d first met back when they were both new to MI6, Q having blithely made a fool out of some idiot who was trying to get Eve’s number off her, and Q had missed her while she was off being a field agent. She had confided in him a month or two ago that she felt as out-of-sorts at her new position as Q did in his, surrounded by men ten and twenty years older than them when she was used to being out in the field, but against all odds, she was flourishing in her new position. And he was—well. Much better off now than he’d ever dreamed.

Now if only he could get 007 to start showing some regard for the priceless equipment Q put in his hands, or even just some indication that he wasn’t actually trying to get himself killed every mission he went out on.

* * * *

"Good work on the Moaveni job," said Moneypenny to him, three months to the day after Silva had nearly brought London down around their ears. Albert Moaveni had infected half of Europe with a computer virus that rewrote security systems into vicious killing protocols; HAL-2012 was responsible for the deaths of at least 300 people across Europe and for sowing general chaos and terror. Moaveni was as brilliant as he was sadistic. Unfortunately for Moaveni, Q was more brilliant and Bond more lethal.

"Yes, well, someone needs to tell Bond that it isn't necessary to see how many lacerations and broken bones one can acquire in the course of pursuing a target," Q said irritably.

"Why don't you tell him yourself?" said a voice from behind him, and Q's heart sank as he watched Moneypenny smirk her way out of the room. Q took a deep breath and turned around to face Bond, who was leaning against the wall in that damnably casual way that he had.

"Mostly because you don't listen," Q said.

Bond shrugged. "I'll ask politely for the next target I chase to not run quite so fast," he said coolly, and Q's stomach clenched. Bond pushed off the wall, prowling across the room to him, and just when Q's heart beat was starting to approach marathon-runner levels, Bond stopped and held out his hand, palm-up.

"Oh look, a piece of..." Q trailed off, blinking down at the unfamiliar thumb drive. He'd fully expected some shard of the expensive pen-shaped pocket computer he'd sent Bond with, able to plug into and hack nearly any computer with a USB port due to self-polymorphic algorithms Q had loaded it with--"Cleaner and quieter than a bomb," Q had told him--but that was in Bond's other now-outstretched hand, still perfectly intact. "What is this?" he asked, caught flat-footed.

The ghost of a smile passed over Bond's face. "It's a present," he said. "I figured you ought to have a look through Moaveni's programs. It wouldn't all fit on your computer so I stole one of his thumb drives."

Q couldn't quite disguise how flustered he was as he plucked the computer and thumb drive from Bond's hand, turning them over greedily, as if he could read their contents with his own two eyes. "Yes," he said. "Well. That's."

"You're welcome," said Bond, clearly amused. Q cleared his throat and glanced up at his agent.

"I don't suppose that gun I sent you with is still intact," Q ventured, and Bond's eyebrows went up. "Well. One out of two. Better than your usual rate."

"I aim to please," said Bond, his face unreadable. Q was still groping for something intelligent to say when he noticed the blooming red-brown splotch on Bond’s trouser, just above his right knee.

“Have you not been to medical yet?” he demanded, and Bond said nothing, merely smiled a little wider. “You came here first? What on earth were you thinking?”

“Suppose I wasn’t,” said Bond, and Q could have thrown his laptop at that smirking face.

“Go have that looked at or you won’t catch a green light in this town until your next birthday,” snapped Q. Bond raised both his hands in apparent surrender, but his smirk didn’t budge an inch even as he backed towards the office door. Q watched him go. As soon as the door shut, he let out a huge breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, leaning against the table as he came over all shaky, the way he did sometimes when he’d forgotten a meal or two. “Fucking git,” Q muttered, looking at the two devices in his hands. As if he could be curried with gifts and favors. As if Bond cared.

…Still. Bond had gone to all the trouble to bring the data to him; the least he could do was have a look through it. Q walked over to his desk and pointedly disconnected his computer from MI6’s internal servers, going so far as to unplug the network cable from the back of his machine. He then set the program he’d been working on to on auto-compile before plugging first the pen-drive and then the thumb-drive into the data ports of his laptop, then sank slowly into his chair, all his attention already given to the code scrawling across the screen as his computer unzipped the little hard drives’ contents.

It wasn’t until his mobile beeped at him four hours later, informing him he had not one but four text messages that he’d missed while totally absorbed in prying open his (competitor’s) target’s files, that he stopped to consider, not for the first time, how disquietingly good at electronics 007 could be. How the hell had Bond even managed to download the files for him in the first place? Moaveni wasn’t exactly an amateur.

Q let out a breath, glancing down at his phone as he tried to shake off how affecting that thought was. One message from Mallory (from M, he corrected himself), two from Moneypenny, and one from Bond. The first two were work-related and therefore redundant, since he’d addressed both their requests earlier in the day and then sent his newest intern to deal with the paperwork; the third was Moneypenny telling him he ought to come out and meet her for a pint down the pub around Leicester Square that she liked; and the last, most recent one, the one from Bond, made Q’s hair stand up on end as though an actual hand had touched him.

Your furnace was out. I fixed it, it said. Q bit his lip so hard he tasted copper, and reached out for his laptop, resolutely saving the work he’d done so far before picking up his mobile to text back.

Do say hello to Jonathan for me, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve sent a visitor his way. Q grinned to himself as he sat back in his chair, before abruptly realizing that when Bond discovered Q’s game, he’d no doubt be coming straight to HQ. He got hastily to his feet, grabbing up his laptop and the two hard drives and a few other pieces of work he’d need to bring home tonight, stuffing the lot of it into his messenger bag and then diving under his desk to retrieve his scarf from where it had hidden itself earlier in the day. The mobile went off while he was under the desk, and he cracked his skull on the underside in his haste to get up and answer.

“Hello, Q,” said a deep, pleasant voice at the other end—Jonathan Stanton, one of Q’s old friends who occasionally did a spot of work for MI6 and who’d volunteered to help man Q’s decoy flats. In the background, Q could hear an odd grunting noise, like someone straining against a huge, beefy arm. “This gentleman seemed to think he was going to find you here. What should I do with him?”

“Oh, well, there are so many ways to answer that question,” said Q gleefully, the ache in his cranium forgotten, unable to resist picturing Bond faced against Jonathan’s hulking weight. A wrestler and bodyguard in the life he’d had before MI6, Jonathan was well over six feet tall and built like the proverbial brick wall, and he’d positively jumped at the chance to inflict some sanctioned damage on people snooping where they didn’t belong. No doubt he had Bond in a choke-hold at this very moment; he often used this flat as a work-out studio, which was why Bond had had the luck to catch him at home.“But he’s one of ours, just overstepping his boundaries a bit. No need to be too rough with him.”

“You know him, then? Q, you little heart-breaker.” Q heard a muffled cough at the other end as Jonathan released Bond, and bit his lip to keep from laughing outright. “And here I thought you might actually have enough on your plate to keep your hands full.”

“You know I can’t resist making trouble, Jon,” said Q, straining his ears to catch any more sounds Bond might make at the other end of the line, but there was nothing. Q wondered if Bond had already left, or if he was hanging about in hopes of… well, hell if he knew.

“I know it very well,” rumbled Jonathan, and Q could hear the man’s grin. “This poor sod apparently hasn’t caught on yet, though.”

“You’re a gem,” Q told him. “Give my best to Adrienne and Vanessa.” He rung off, stuffing his mobile deep into his messenger bag and making for the door—then paused, and turned back to his desk. He flipped to a clean page of paper on the notepad at the corner of his desk, and scribbled down a short message, knowing who would come here and find it in the next 30 minutes at the very outside. Bond would track him down sooner or later; might as well make it fun for both of them.

Q ripped the sheet off the notepad and folded it over and in on itself, nimble fingers still remembering the little origami figures from when he was a boy who wasn’t yet allowed to touch expensive electronics. He left the crane in the centre of the desk and all but skipped out of the room. Time to go see Moneypants about that drink.

* * * * *

“Quentin!” exclaimed Moneypenny, as Q sidled up to her in the press of people by the pub counter thirty minutes later, thirty minutes in which Q had half-expected to find Bond’s heavy hand falling on the back of his neck at any moment. “You came! You might have texted; here I was thinking you were working late at the office again.”

“I was, but I got interrupted,” said Q. “Must we use that dreadful name? Can’t you just—”

“You of all people know the rules,” chided Moneypenny cheerfully. “Come on, dove, I’ll buy you a drink. What’ll it be?”

“Just a Strongbow, please. Thanks, Moneypants.” Q leaned against the bar counter and peered around, fighting the urge to bounce on his heels. The adrenaline and glee he’d gotten from pulling that stunt on Bond had got him high, and now it was all he could do not to fidget like a child who’s had too many sweets. Moneypenny arched a perfectly-plucked eyebrow at him, but Q avoided meeting her eyes until they’d made it back to their corner table. Moneypenny’s friend from accounts was there, a curvaceous redhead named Vicky who had the foulest mouth of anyone Q had ever met and could cheerfully drink most of the field agents under the table. The woman had a brilliant mind; she was wasted on something as boring as book-keeping, really. Then again, she was the only other department head in MI6 who was as young as Q, so perhaps their bosses did know what they were doing.

“Quentin, darling,” Vicky purred, scooting over to make room for him as Q and Moneypenny worked their way around the back of the booth. “To what do we owe this honor?”

“A certain double-oh agent thought it’d be brilliant to try to find my flat,” said Q, as casually as he could manage. Moneypenny’s eyebrows shot up towards her hairline, and Vicky’s hand flew to her mouth. “Tragically, he was disappointed in his search.”

No,” breathed Moneypenny, and Q had to marvel at how positively gleeful she sounded. “That git—”

“Bond?” demanded Vicky. “It was Bond, wasn’t it.”

“Of course it was, no one else is enough of a sodding moron as to try to break into Quentin’s flat,” said Moneypenny, and both women bent closer, eyes wide as saucers. “Which one was it? Was it Adrienne’s? Tell me it was Adrienne’s.”

“Jonathan’s,” said Q, grinning hugely, and Moneypenny threw back her head, actually cackling. Q mentally gave himself 50 points; it wasn’t anyone who could startle that laugh out of Moneypenny.

Vicky looked a little worried and perhaps also a touch confused; few people knew about Q’s decoy flats. “Is Bond alright? Also why was there someone in your flat?” she asked. “I mean—”

“Bond is fine, Jonathan called me straight away,” Q reassured her, taking a sip of his cider. “And they weren’t in my actual flat. I have several, ah, decoy flats, you know, for security. Anyway, Bond can handle himself. I would have been more worried for Jonathan, actually, but it turned out alright.”

“Oh, that calls for a toast,” said Moneypenny, and the three of them raised their pint glasses, clinking them together and knocking back a few swallows. “You realize he’s just going to sulk about it now, don’t you? Because he’s actually an infant.”

“I should hope he doesn’t, he’s enough of a pain in my arse already,” said Q. “Actually, if he’s as stubborn as I think he is, we may see him here in a few minutes.” To his bemusement, Moneypenny and Vicky exchanged a glance at this statement, before both women looked over at him expectantly. “What?”

“You’re sweet on him,” said Moneypenny, and Q choked on his cider. “Admit it.”

“I’m—you’re mad,” Q sputtered, still coughing. He grabbed up a napkin and swiped at his chest, where a few spots of cider had landed on his jumper. “What are you on about? I’m not—”

“You just invited the man who goes through your technology like it’s toilet paper, costs MI6 more money than all the other agents combined, and attempted to locate and then break into your flat, to join us for a drink,” pointed out Vicky.

Damn, thought Q. She would know a thing like that, wouldn’t she. “I didn’t exactly invite him,” he said after a moment, because Moneypenny was giving him the same look she gave M when he was being a git. “I left him a hint.”

“A hint,” repeated Moneypenny. “And what exactly does that mean?”

“I left him a piece of paper with a message on it,” said Q, flushing a bit now as Moneypenny and Vicky watched him with the same knowing expression on both of their faces. “It said—’Put your money where your mouth is and you’ll find yourself a drink.’“

Vicky glanced at Moneypenny. “He’s not going to get that, though. Is he?”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” said Moneypenny thoughtfully. “He’ll guess you’re talking about me, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to figure out where we are…”

“He’ll get it,” said Q, almost defiantly. He couldn’t help but note the irony that despite how contemptuous he was at their first meeting, he was now the one betting, as it were, that 007 was smart enough to play along. You’d better be smart enough, he told Bond silently. Did that mean he was rooting for Bond to do something illegal or at the very least, wildly inappropriate? Maybe. Maybe he didn’t care.

“Ten quid says he won’t,” said Vicky, grinning now. It was the same smile she wore whenever some new MI6 agent was stupid enough to doubt the accuracy of her numbers. Q narrowed his eyes.

“You’re on,” he said, and Vicky wiggled her eyebrows at him as she took another drink. Next to him, Moneypenny inhaled sharply, her eyes tracking past Vicky.

“You’re out ten quid,” said a new voice from their right, and Q sat up straight, feeling an electric shock go down his spine at the sight of 007 standing at the edge of their table, arctic eyes fixed on Q. Vicky swore, and dug in her trousers for her wallet, but Q was suddenly not paying attention to anyone but Bond.

“You got here quick,” he observed, scooting out from around the table.

“I took a cab,” said Bond, smiling that faint smile he had, dry as vermouth. Q felt his stomach give a familiar flutter, as though he’d just eaten a butterfly, and wondered how much of his conversation with Vicky and Moneypenny Bond had heard.

“How’d you find us?” Moneypenny demanded. Bond tsk’d at her, shaking his head.

“Really, Moneypenny,” he said, and Q could have kicked him for how condescending he sounded. “I can’t be giving away all my professional secrets, can I?” Moneypenny rolled her eyes.

“I believe I owe you a drink,” said Q, and Bond inclined his head. “Either of you girls ready for another round?” Moneypenny and Vicky shook their heads, and Q moved off with Bond towards the counter again. Q couldn’t help but notice that Bond was standing unnecessarily close to him, even for how crowded the pub was. What Moneypenny saw in this place, Q would never know; as close to the Leicester Square tube stop as it was, it was invariably jam-packed, and a good half the crowd was always tourists, the accents flying fast and thick.

“You owe me a lot more than a drink,” Bond murmured in Q’s ear as they waited at the counter for the bartender to come over. Bond’s voice was low and gravelly, his breath hot on Q’s neck, and Q’s skin tightened, the hair standing on end in base lust. Fuck, fuck, buggering shitting fuck.

“It’s not as though I asked you to drop off a pint of milk at my flat, is it,” pointed out Q, leaning over the bar. He was proud of how calm he sounded. Then he felt a hand settle at the small of his back, sneaking under his jacket, and that light touch was enough to make him nearly crawl over the counter face-first into the ice bin on the other side.

He couldn’t believe this was happening. Bond was flirting with him—well, for values of “flirting” that skated dangerously close to foreplay, anyway. Q felt giddy, electric at being vindicated but also terrified at how transparent his feelings apparently were, and he reminded himself viciously that Bond flirted as instinctively as most humans breathed, that just because Moneypenny had called him out didn’t mean Bond knew or guessed at anything.

“What’ll it be?” asked the bartender. Q yanked the chain back on his reeling mind and steeled himself, willing himself to not pay all his attention to the hand still resting against his lumbar, and the thumb that was rubbing gently against his skin through his shirt.

“A Strongbow, please, and whatever he’s having,” said Q.

“Grey Goose dirty martini,” said Bond. “Up, two olives.”

“And people call me posh,” said Q, glancing at Bond.

Bond’s lip curled, his eyes flicking down to Q’s jumper and tie before coming back up to his face. “There’s no such thing as the wrong time for good taste,” he said mildly, and tucked his hand back into his suit pocket. Q fought off the wave of disappointment with a small smirk.

“Did you really fix the furnace at the flat?” he asked. Bond’s expression didn’t change, but something in the heavy lines around his eyes seemed to lighten. “I’m only asking so I know whether to send a thank-you note.”

Bond snorted. “I should’ve guessed it wasn’t really yours from how easy it was to locate,” he murmured. Q shot Bond the most withering glare in his arsenal, which seemed to only amuse the man. Fucking Bond.

“And I should have known that a man who thought nothing of casually crashing M’s private residence and personal interfaces would find our top security protocols ‘easy,’” Q said. “It’ll be a good test of our security measures to see if they can stop you. Since regulations clearly don’t.” He left money on the counter for the bartender and stepped away before Bond could respond, holding Bond’s drink out of reach as they headed back to the table. Bond looked at him the way one might look at a child that thinks he’s being clever by hiding Daddy’s keys behind his back, but followed Q back to their table anyway, waiting until Q had set their drinks down and worked his way back around to sit next to Moneypenny and Vicky. Bond slid in next to him, slouch casual and arm draped easily across the back of the booth as though he owned this pub and everything (everyone) in it.

“Well, aren’t you just the cat that ate the canary,” commented Moneypenny, eyebrow cocked. Q was preparing to kick her under the table, watching for a stray comment with the part of his brain that wasn’t totally preoccupied with the heat through their trousers of Bond’s thigh against his. Each of Bond’s legs was like a young tree trunk, all corded muscle wrapped in thousand-Euro silk suit.

“That’s not all I’ve eaten,” Bond observed, eyes wide, devil-may-care. He picked up his martini and sipped it, waggling both eyebrows at her lewdly. Moneypenny snorted, and Q hid his smile in his cider, wondering if someone like 007 could actually sit around at a pub and make small talk.

It turned out he could.

Turned out it was even fun.

* * * * *

If Q had had to guess what four members of the Britain’s most intelligent and dangerous government branch would talk about over drinks at a pub, he might have guessed equal parts shop and trash-talking. As it turned out, he wasn’t far wrong.

And it wasn’t the fact that Moneypenny had almost as many hair-raising stories as Bond to tell about field-work that shocked him (though he guessed Bond had far more than he simply wasn’t telling), and it wasn’t the fact that Vicky could tell such filthy jokes with a straight face that Q was reduced to sputtering into his drink. Finding himself doing sleight-of-hand for his coworkers was a bit of a surprise, but it was worth it for the look on their faces when Q plucked Vicky’s mobile seemingly right out of Moneypenny’s cleavage. And of course Vicky ruined what poise Q had left by insisting on buying the next two rounds, Dark and Stormys for the whole table, and it wasn’t until he’d already drank two that Q found out how fucking alcoholic they were, and by then it was much too late.

No, what caught and held him were the moments when Bond threw his head back and laughed, a real laugh, all the cracks and imperfections and scars on his weathered face made perfect and right for a few breathless seconds. Q knew Bond’s history; he knew the seven levels of Hell Bond had dragged and been dragged through, and it blew his mind that anyone could return with their humanity intact, and yet.

And yet.

* * * * *

Q stumbled onto the street three hours later, loose-limbed and warm, flushed through his face and throat all the way down to his loosened collar, tie hanging at half-mast. Moneypenny pushed out the door after him, laughing into his ear and slinging her arm around his shoulders, leaving messy kisses across his temple and into his hairline. “Moneypaaants,” he protested, and oh, he was pissed, worse than he’d been in years.

“Watch you don’t break Quentin,” said Bond from behind them, and it was hard to judge when he was this wankered but Q thought he sounded amused.

“You’re one to talk; you break everything you touch, from what you’ve told us,” said Vicky, bringing up the rear. Q turned in time to see her clap Bond on the shoulder; she had a few inches on him in those heels. Bond smirked.

“I work as hard as I play,” he said coolly.

“I feel sorry for your lovers if you leave them in anything approaching the condition of the Walther PPK you brought me home last time,” Q said. Bond’s eyes focused on him, burning like gas lamps in his head. The heat there was enough to burn Q to a cinder if he strayed too close.

“Oooh, touchy, touchy.” Moneypenny grinned, her smile as wicked as the hand that squeezed Q’s hip. Q leaned into her automatically, remembering vaguely their one abortive venture into more-than-friends territory, two years gone now. Water under the bridge.

“Right,” Vicky declared. “You lot be good, I’m heading home.”

“I’ll catch a cab with you,” decided Moneypenny. She disentangled herself from Q to force a hug on Bond, who accepted it bemusedly, and then Vicky swept Q up in another hug, eliciting a squawk of protest as she ruffled his already-hopeless hair before walking off arm-in-arm with Moneypenny, leaving Q standing on the pavement with Bond.

“Are you alright to get home?” Bond asked. He was suddenly in Q’s personal space, much closer than he had any right to be. His eyes were so fucking blue.

“If you think you’re going to discover the location of my flat by oh-so-helpfully escorting me home, you have another think coming,” Q said. It came out a bit breathless, and spoken right at Bond’s crooked (twice-broken) nose. Bond smiled, and this close Q found himself staring in fascination at the lines around his eyes, the harshness of his cheekbones.

“What’s to stop me from just following you home?” The question was very quiet. Bond was watching him and Q couldn’t place the expression, was too drunk to parse that softness of voice, the language in Bond’s gaze. He straightened, determined not to be intimidated by the proximity of the deadliest man on earth, and Bond’s hand shot out to catch Q’s elbow as Q swayed on his feet.

“What are you, a lost puppy?” Bond was perilously close, his soft exhale brushing Q’s cheek. “Try it sometime,” Q said. “See what happens.”

“I think I will,” murmured Bond. Q tilted his face up, and Bond leaned in and pressed his mouth to Q’s. His kiss tasted like rum and ginger beer; Q thought he could catch the faintly bitter aftertaste of his own folly. The heat of his mouth was incredible. Q leaned in, curling fingers of both hands in Bond’s scissor-sharp lapels, half-expecting to slice his hands open. “For tonight, though—” Bond spoke into Q’s mouth, between kisses, hand wandering down from Q’s elbow to his hip, “perhaps you ought to … mm. Come home with me.”

Q leaned back, breaking the kiss with a slow, shaky breath. His face felt hot; he wasn’t sure if it was Bond or the alcohol. Not much difference, really. “But how will you get into your flat if you don’t even have your keys?” he asked softly. Bond’s eyebrows knotted, and then popped up into his hairline as Q held up his hand, from which dangled Bond’s keys.

“When did you—” he demanded, and Q tutted.

“Ah ah ah. Don’t go accusing me of things I’m too drunk to possibly have done.” Q stepped back and tossed Bond his keys; Bond caught them without so much as glancing at them. “Bond… “

“James,” said Bond, and gave a very small smile.

“James,” repeated Q, the word warm on his tongue. “If you want to find my flat—or you want me in your flat—you are going to have to very much try harder.” There it was, an open invitation where Q should be turning Bond away, but he’d always liked to play with fire, hadn’t he.

“I will endeavor not to disappoint you,” said Bond. His voice was dark, sweet smoke. Q wanted to rip off that suit and lick every inch of him. He lifted his head.

“See that you do,” he said, and zipping up his coat, he turned and walked towards the tube station two blocks down. He fancied he could feel the weight of Bond’s eyes following him, but when he reached the end of the block and risked a glance back over his shoulder, Bond was gone.

* * * * *