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How to Enforce Secrecy

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Q’s alarm went off and for the life of him, he couldn’t recall why he’d bloody set the thing in the first place considering the night he’d had before.  Of course, to be fair, the night before had a sort of frenzied dreamlike quality normally only achieved with illegal drugs, but when Q rolled over, the aches and pains that made him hiss and swear were totally real.  His phone’s alarm kept on chirping away, so with a grimace, Q pushed himself up to his elbows - far enough to grab the offending piece of technology and drag it within range of his nearsighted eyes.  

~Reminder: Job Interview, 7am~ flashed on the screen like a cheerful reminder of impending doom.

Shit!”  Forgetting that he’d spent nearly half of last night running around the city with James and Alec, playing spy-games with them (literally), Q threw off his blankets and then proceeded to likewise throw himself out of bed.  He had barely an hour to get showered, dressed, and downtown for his interview at an electronics repair shop.  Fixing people’s computers on a random-referral basis was great, but even if he charged Bond and Alec double for all the work he did just for them, he’d make more money at an actual job - meaning he had to get moving now.  He’d had an earlier alarm, but clearly had slept through it.  

Staggering to the shower and undressing clumsily as he went (aware that his roommate was once again out on the town, hopefully not getting involved with drug-dealers this time), Q couldn’t help but review the previous night’s escapades in his head with a giddy sort of thrill.  He’d actually played a game of capture-the-flag… with in-training MI6 spies.  And he’d won!  With much help from both a drugged Alec and a Telepathically-improving James, Q had tipped the odds in favor of his own team.  On the negative side of that equation, however, he also had some nasty bruising all over his left shoulder from the trap he’d evaded and a laceration across his hand that throbbed and ached ferociously now that he was awake enough to notice.  Undoing the bandages gingerly, Q hissed in a very catlike fashion before looking with worry at his skin: it was puffy and red, but the cuts from the glass had mostly scabbed closed.  He washed the wound out as best he could in the shower, disinfecting it with many sharply painful breaths, and made a mental note to stop at the clinic on his way home to get it properly seen to.  For now, he bandaged it as neatly as possible and dragged clothes on, barely managing to towel his hair dry before he was grabbing his satchel and bolting out the door.  

Trotting onto the pavement with the early morning air fresh on his face, Q didn’t take any notice of the nondescript black car packed in front of his building.  He would have noticed the two men in suits who stepped out of it seconds after his appearance if he hadn’t also realized that he’d forgotten his phone on his bedside table at that exact moment.  Head down, checking his pockets, Q swiftly turned to go back inside, cursing the random failings of his memory.

“Quincy Boothroyd?”

The commanding tone was startling, almost more so than the name, which Q honestly couldn't recall the last time he’d heard in full - his teachers generally called him ‘Mr. Boothroyd’ and his friends almost all called him ‘Q’.  The last person to call him ‘Quincy’ or use (Heaven forbid) both of his given names together had been his Gift-tutor, and those were hardly pleasant memories.  Q spun around, blinking in bewilderment but almost immediately feeling a worm of uneasy crawl through his senses as he took in the two smartly dressed men watching him with the intensity of unleashed Dobermans.  Considering that Q was a cat by nature, the analogy was particularly unflattering and unsettling.  

“Who wants to know?” was the reply Q chose, tone polite with a rim of caginess all around it like ice on the edges of a frost-touched leaf.  

Apparently that counted as an affirmative answer, as the nearest man - a broad fellow with military-short brown hair - ignored Q’s return question in favor of saying, “Mr. Boothroyd, we’re going to have to ask you to come with us.  Now.  Whatever else you may have had on your schedule for today, consider it cancelled.”

The worm of unease had become a boa constrictor, twisting and writhing in Q’s gut and setting off all sorts of warning signals that Q didn’t need to interpret to heed.  He was vividly recalling last night again, but instead of feeling proud and euphoric about the whole thing, he was recalling that he’d meddled in the affairs of MI6.  Sliding slow steps backwards towards the door, he firmed up his voice just enough to quietly demand, “Why?”

The second man, a match to the first but with black hair, met Q’s eyes with all the flatness of a reptile’s, until his mouth twitched and he said evenly, “That’s classified.”

And that was all Q needed to know to deduce that MI6 had somehow found out that they had an information leak named Quincy Boothroyd, and were about to deal with the problem.  

Q was fast, especially on the rare occasion that his clumsy feet decided to get with the program, which they did for once as he spun and sprinted back to his door.  He heard shouts behind him, brief and cut off - proof that these men knew not to draw attention, and also to save their breath for more useful things.  Briefly, Q considered making a spectacle to at least alert his neighbors that something was happening, but since his building was entirely populated by uni students and therefore hosted some pretty wild behavior, it was entirely possible that no one would bat an eye except for shout at him to shut up and let them sleep.  Even as he thought this, Q was inside, heading down the hall swiftly to his own door with a frantic plan to call for help - a plan that necessitated him getting to his phone.  There was also the hope that he could barricade himself in his room until some kind of assistance arrived.  

Something whizzed past Q’s head, and Q heard a distinct ‘pfffft’ sound like a projectile weapon but many times quieter.  A dart-gun?  The utter shock that someone was trying to hit him with a dart added a new level of speed to Q’s heels, and he all but dove through his door, key scraping roughly at the lock but letting him in with a hard click.  Q’s momentum overbalanced him as the door gave way, however, and he more or less fell into the room, already hearing footsteps pounding close behind him.  

Realizing that this was MI6 and that they were trying to shoot him (not lethally, but with dangerous determination nonetheless), Q flipped onto his back and tried to swallow down the panic rising up his throat.  His phone… even across the room was too far away.  He barely had time to lash his foot out and kick the door closed, and even then, the weight of two grown men beyond it pushed through with barely a grunt and a pause.  Shouldering the door back open again, the front man grimacing either in pain or just inconvenience, both agents aimed their weapons at the lanky young man sprawled on the floor in front of them.  

Only to find, in the split second it took them to aim and consider their options, that their target had shrunk considerably.  Running out of options, Q had changed up the rules and was now making a run for it on all fours.  

Pandemonium reigned.  Someone had not adequately briefed these two men on just how hard their target could be to catch, much less immobilize, when he was about the size of a bread-loaf but as fast as greased lightning across the floor.  Q almost made it out the door again, in fact, but the brown-haired agent was fast enough to sweep his leg across the way; rather than risk being kicked, Q scrambled and turned, tail streaking out behind him.  As per usual, Q’s mind disconnected for the first few moments of this chaotic mess, but when he started remembering things again, he was in the process of leaping off the sink and back into the main part of his living quarters.  Someone grabbed for him and missed, but Q cried out sharply as his paws hit the floor and he felt the cut across his right pad open up again, bright and painful.  The shoulder attached to said paw was no better, aching as if Q had pulled something either last night or in the last few minutes.  Still, desperation was the mother of invention - or at least the mother of ignoring pain that would otherwise make someone stop - so Q zigzagged and kept on running as fast as his short legs would carry him as the second agent made a dive for him.  Previous calm demeanors gone, both men swore colorfully as their job proved harder than anticipated by far.  

Ears tucking back against his head, Q skidded under Trevor’s bed, nearly dying of shock as his sensitive ears were bombarded by the sounds of someone coming in after him.  Small size and agility once again won out over brute force, however, and Q came out of the other side of the bed like a shot.  He almost didn’t make it any further, however, as the second agent leapt over the bed and landed so close that Q squeaked and froze, acutely aware that his small size made him terribly fragile.  He was breakable in a way that no human ever was, and total fear froze him, fur fluffed out, lungs heaving for breath beneath their delicate eggshell of ribs.  

His petrification broke only when a seemingly bear-sized hand closed on him - not a light grip like Alec always offered or a practiced scuffing like he got periodically from Bond, but simply a rough grab around his middle as if he were a lump of clay to be lifted and not a living cat.  Q squalled in both surprise and discomfort, but also recalled that this breakable little shape of his was armed and also damn flexible.  His frightened cry becoming a more valiant hiss, Q twisted, and soon the black-haired agent found out what it was like to have fully four sets of claws and an additional set of teeth fixed into his hand.  

The man screamed and Q was dropped, not from a great height but onto his side, as Q had never quite gotten a handle on the whole ‘cats always land on their feet’ thing.  Taking a leaf from his opponents’ books and saving his breath for running, Q turned off the hiss and instead made a beeline for the next best thing to hide under: his own bed.  He was under it before anyone could catch him.  

“You little fucker!” he could hear being snarled behind him, shortly before the sanctity of his newest hiding place was defiled by it being physically lifted and tipped right over.  These men were older, stronger, and probably more trained than James and Alec combined, and the true danger of the situation had long-since sunk into Q’s mind, and he cowered for a second as he was forced into plain sight again.  His ribs and flanks hurt where he’d been grabbed, every panting breath causing a new ache to flair, and looming over him was the brown-haired agent who now sported a bloodied hand for his efforts.  The other man, surprisingly, also had three parallel cuts on his face, making Q wonder what the hell he’d done during his regular post-shift blackout.

Further contemplation was ended as the latter agent lunged for Q again.  This time, Q’s leap was almost but not quite fast enough, but everyone - Q included - was learning that catching just part of a cat usually left the rest of said cat free for retaliation, so there was more clawing and more shouts of pain, but this time the agent didn’t let go.  His hand was over Q’s lower back, and it pressed hard to the floor, making tendrils of pain shiver up Q’s arched spine and down to his dark tail in ways that made him sincerely fear for his own safety - even in humans, the spinal cord was a delicate thing, and in a creature with bones built for grace and not force?  Q cried out and curled in on himself, using his claws less because he wanted to remain free but more because he just wanted this man to bloody stop before Q was partially paralyzed or worse.  His teeth were bared around a kitten’s screams, and pure panic was like a fire in his body, immolating every thought he had except the wish to be let go.

Somehow, it worked.  The pressure let up, and the older man stopped pinning him to the floor.  Before Q could recover, however, relief making him slow as much as pure exhaustion was, the other agent was smart enough to toss something over their elusive prey.  Q barely had time to look up and flick his ears forward before he was blinded by a covering of cloth, and no amount of thrashing could get him out of it.  

It was actually one of the agent’s jackets, put to good use.  It was repurposed to swiftly and efficiently bundle Q up, finally neutralizing not only his claws and teeth but his ability to zip around like a ball in a pin-ball machine.  

“Bloody fuck,” Agent #1 swore, holding the makeshift bag closed, then tying the sleeves in a knot for good measure.  The wriggling inside decreased as Q ran out of room to do so.  “That was not what I signed up for.”

The second agent straightened and stretched, back cricked from chasing something that was barely taller than his ankles.  “Well, at least we caught the little shit, right?  M’ll be pleased.”

The cloth-trap hissed, low and vicious as if it housed a crocodile.  Agent #1 gave it a shake and it stopped, the wriggling also fading.  If Agent #1 pressed a hand in tight against the bundled cloth, he could still feel frantic breathing, however, so he counted it as a win before tucking his package jauntily under one arm.  “I never thought a shape-shifting Gift could be so annoying.  Come on, let’s go so that Medical can patch us up before we get rabies or something.”  He gave the bag a poke, and it wriggled with a weak mew.  “Because if this fucker doesn't have rabies, then my Gift ain’t Seeking.”

Agent #2 snorted, grabbed a spare shirt lying around to wad up around his bloody hand, and then followed his partner out of the room.  He picked up the spent darts as he went, muttering, “I bloody wish you were Gifted at sharp-shooting instead of people-finding, or this would have been a lot easier for all of us.”

Q, where he was tired and sore and scared in the suffocating confines of his jacket-prison, had to grudgingly agree.  

~^~

James and Alec were sitting in the office of the head of MI6 and lounging on the chairs like this happened every day, although their sullenness was less reflective of daily outings and more akin to hardened criminals braced for interrogation and determined not to say a word.  It was a pretty stoic outlook for two young men who weren’t even officially agents yet, especially considering that the woman across from them had dealt with far more trying individuals.  M’s sharp grey eyes were like chips of obsidian, turned pale grey by the light of pure intelligence behind them and sharp enough to lacerate with a glance.

So far, James and Alec had been holding out, refusing to be forthcoming when asked about their training exercise of the night before.  Lifting one eyebrow in a patently unimpressed expression, M had only questioned them for a suspiciously short amount of time before checking something on her computer screen and saying, “I suppose that it was too much to hope that either one of you would behave.  Two of my agents should arrive shortly with more information.  Both of you can sit and stew until then.”  And with that, the woman had returned to answering emails and doing paperwork, ignoring the two trainees as totally as if they’d ceased to exist.

The tension in the room was thick enough to choke on.  

To be fair, after the night they’d had - both in the holding cells and playing capture-the-flag before that - James and Alec were doing rather well.  James had a migraine painful enough to make his eyes squint, thanks to how far he’d pushed his telepathy last night, and Alec had the equivalent of a hangover from being drugged.  Medical had seen to them, to make sure they weren’t in any danger, but since M had specifically requested that they receive no painkillers until they got cooperative, James and Alec were far from the picture of happiness and health.  Their glares were poor masks over grimaces of discomfort.  

That, and James and Alec had both agreed that they’d endure far worse before giving Q’s name out.  

Fortunately, the silent waiting lasted only about ten minutes.  Ten minutes in which Alec and James feigned boredom, eventually going so far as to converse in purposefully convivial tones.  James was the one who started it, pasting an easy smile on his face and verbally hiding the fact that his brain was burnt out with the migraine, making him effectively Gift-less until further notice.  He hadn’t said as much to Alec, not with cameras watching them in the holding cells and M watching them now, but the crow-Shifter arched one brow questioningly and seemed to understand the brief look of frustration that flickered across James’s face.  

With James out of commission, the two agents-in-training therefore had no warning when a knock at the door came and M let two strangers into the room - or when those two agents came in bearing a make-shift bag that was squirming and mewling in distress.  

Any thoughts of playing it cool and giving away nothing went right out the window, as the sound drew both James’s and Alec’s attention like compasses finding true north, and Q’s mental cries belatedly sliced through the fog of James’s migraine.  

James and Alec were out of their seats at once, focused on the bundle of cloth to the exclusion of everything else in the room.  When the newly arrived agents tensed, M gave them sharp glances (not missing their accrued scratches and definitely not missing the fact that they’d brought their asset in wrapped in a jacket) and flicked one hand in a very clear dismissal.  While the two disgruntled, older men made faces and left, James untangled the cloth to swiftly reveal the bundle of black and white fur beneath.  Q hunched down and away from his hands for a moment, eyes huge and pupils fearfully dilated from slits to black pools.  While James hushed his smaller companion with more gentleness than M had quite frankly thought he possessed, Alec stood at his shoulder - and had the luxury of going undiscovered as he noticed a name scribbled onto the collar of the jacket.  Filing that information for later like a dagger being palmed, Alec retreated with James as Q finally recognized his two best mates and allowed himself to be picked up.  

James was focused on Q, settling the cat on his lap and keeping one arm crooked around him as he talked down to him in a low, soothing tone, a gentle river of words that Q’s ears pricked to.  For a young man who’d been alert and watchful even before MI6 recruitment, he was totally ignoring everything now.  Alec clearly had a lot of his attention on Q, too, but was sitting forward in his chair, posture clearly challenging and eyes on M.  Clearly there was no hope of them denying Q’s involvement with everything by this point, but the glint in Alec’s eyes said that cornered dogs bit fastest.  

For her part, M was watching all of this with something akin to mild surprise and fascination on her otherwise impassive face.  She didn’t say anything or react, letting the little trio settle now that the trap had been sprung and all of the cards were out on the table.  While she had been prepared for her tactics to yield a bit of pandemonium, she’d hoped that James and Alec’s unauthorized ‘outside consult’ wouldn’t be brought in with so much dramatics - however, it was worth it to learn that James was most definitely capable of emotional attachments.  Psych had been on the verge of disqualifying James as a trainee, on the basis of him being psychopathic.  MI6 hired some very morally and emotionally impaired people, but an inability to feel for others made for a dangerous level of unpredictability - as well as untrustworthy agents.  M had been hearing reports of how close James was with his training partner, Alec, however, and had suspected that there was more to this than met the eye.

Now she was being proven right.  James Bond, orphan and Telepath, may have seemed utterly unfeeling and aloof when his supposed girlfriends were threatened, but was radiating protective compassion now towards one Quincy Boothroyd, cat-Shifter.  

Alec was also a surprise, one that M noted with well-hidden wariness.  She’d have to recommend continued training at hiding one’s thoughts and emotions, because even if M weren’t a Telepath herself, she’d have been able to see James’s heart on his sleeve and Alec’s loyalty in the dangerous set of his body.  Given even just a few more months of training and growing, and both Alec and James would be incredibly physically formidable, but Alec’s posture already spoke of a dedication to defend the cat on James’s lap if necessary.  

Regardless of how useful this set-up had been in revealing various secrets and character-traits about her two most promising (and vexsome) recruits, there was still one problem - the real reason that this meeting had been arranged.  

“Bond, Trevelyan, I hesitated to believe that either of you were confiding in an outside source, but I’m afraid that your attachment combined with last night's reports make matters rather obvious,” M said, firm and unflappable as a mountain.  James’s eyes finally flicked up to her, and underneath the worry that washed his mind, she sensed his thoughts sharpening like a switchblade snapping open before he hid it all.  

Well, not all.  

He wasn’t that good yet.  

“Do either of you deny that you’ve been involving this young man, Mr. Quincy Boothroyd, in MI6 business?” M asked.  It was mostly a formality at this point, because she knew the answer, but she was curious as to how they’d answer.  They’d been lying rather well up until now, although she couldn’t afford to let them know that.  As she indicated Quincy, she flicked her eyes to him, years of diplomacy allowing her to ignore the fact that she was talking to a human-in-cat’s-clothing.  He was almost invisible to her, his body very small even for his age, and with James leaned over him with his forearms walled around him, M just saw the feline’s curled back and his dark ears when he lifted them.  

Now she saw green-gold eyes, turned anxiously her way but soon followed by the rest of Quincy’s petite, angular head as he sat up shakily.  James murmured something to him - his mind echoed it where M could hear: ‘Easy, Q, you don’t have to do anything.’ - but Mr. Boothroyd straightened regardless.  M switched her attention to him, immediately fighting the urge to smile a bit as she registered a diamond-bright mind full of curiosity and determination right alongside a hefty tide of fear.  There was a lot in that young mind that shouldn’t have been there, now that M was close enough to read him, but it was remarkably well hidden - a side-effect of spending a lot of time with a Telepath.  

What caught her interest most, however, was the thread of loyalty that vibrated like a perfect middle-octave C in the young man's mind, thrumming more loudly by the second as he settled on shaking haunches and faced M squarely.  Alec's and James’s minds, M already knew, vibrated with that exact same pitch, and suddenly the older woman couldn’t help the tiny upward tick at one side of her mouth.  

Quincy (Q, apparently) was a terrified but brave little sod, and even though his fur was fluffed out in every direction, he sat up almost properly.  Only then did James sit back a bit - but only after he brushed his stubbled chin reassuringly over the top of Q’s lifted head, making the feline twitch and mewl impulsively.  Fear radiated as much from his mind as from his frame, and he twisted around with clear intentions of crawling right into James’s jacket (M raised one eyebrow a fraction as she learned a bit more about how close these three young men were).  However, the cat-Shifter regained his little sliver of courage after only a second, and turned forward again with a little puff of air from his tiny ribcage.

It was simply novel to see two admittedly dangerous trainees metaphorically (and almost physically) wrapping themselves around someone who was so inherently fragile.  

Bond lifted his head, and his posture began to mimic Trevelyan’s - dangerous - even as M sensed the unexpected shift of his mind waking up.  Admittedly, James had a long ways to go before he’d be a truly formidable Telepath, but he was surprising her of late… and she thought she knew why.  That reason was presently nonverbal and sitting up as proudly as he could on James’s lap.  

When it was clear that no one was going to answer her, M folded her hands on her desk and caught each young man's eyes in turn, aware that James flinched the hardest - because he more than anyone else knew what she was capable of.  The gates of his mind weren’t exactly iron-clad, but he was slamming them on her nonetheless to the best of his ability.  Most telling was the way he curled one hand around the front of Q’s chest, fur ruffling under his fingertips.  

James, just tell her,’ Q’s voice echoed behind a small mrrrp of noise, and he rotated his head around to catch the Telepath’s gaze.  James, of course, was mostly deafened by a headache at the moment, so M got the pleasure of listening to the fervor and sincerity in Q’s mental voice, ‘You don’t have to make things worse trying to protect me.  I kept asking, after all, and it’s not like you can’t keep secrets.’  Q pawed at James’s hand, which tightened protectively around him in response.  ‘I’m the only one you’ve told and I know it.  You barely trust other people with your bloody birthday-!’

M was pretty sure that she’d heard enough.  She'd hoped that this was a one-time problem, but it was reassuring to hear Q guilelessly confirming her hopes, unaware that James wasn’t the only Telepath in the room.  It was hardly an ethical tactic, but then again, this was MI6.  “Fine then.  I’ll speak.”  Trepidation filled the room, and M felt a little bit evil about letting it grow - but she had so few little pleasures in life, and goodness knew that these two would make her life hell in the future, to say nothing for their unexpected third Musketeer.  “The evidence rather speaks for itself, and I can’t say enough how disappointed I am that you two have already proven yourself loose-lipped.  However-!”  Just as both James and Alec opened their mouths to argue, M raised an imperious finger.  After a beat of stiff silence, she went on, “-Seeing as Mr. Boothroyd here seems to be the only person that you find occasion to be chatty with, I’m not going to recommend that you be removed from the program.”  M waited for the relief of that sentence to sink in like a Caribbean-blue tide (even Q was relieved, and he wasn’t even in danger of getting fired) before adding poignantly, “That doesn’t mean that you won’t be given some very strict lessons regarding secretiveness, so I hope that my trust is not misplaced when I say that I believe this to be a one-time incident.”  James and Alec were already nodding, trying to look unfazed but mostly failing.  M enjoyed the sight, because she had no doubt that soon these two would be well-enough trained that even her telepathy wouldn’t be able to see past their masks.  “If you find more friends that you feel the need to unload on-”

“We won’t, ma’am.”  This came from James, and she rather thought he meant it.  The steadiness of his arctic blue eyes spoke not only of keeping secrets frozen forever out of reach, but of a pathological refusal to make friends easily.  M had noticed this ages ago, and had at first felt sorry for him, but looking at James’s little clan - two Shifters - she didn’t feel so worried about him now.  

“Good.  Because believe me, the remedial work that I have planned for both of you already will make you regret this deeply,” M finished tartly, and inwardly reveled in the barely restrained groans of despair.  ‘Remedial work’ for spies was always grueling and never fun, not even for two wild ones like James and Alec.  Snapping her eyes to Q, who fluffed up for a second at being the center of attention so suddenly, the older woman finished, “Now, if you please, Mr. Boothroyd, there’s a lecture for you as well, and I’d prefer that you be your human self when I give it.  That, and you’ll need opposable thumbs to signs the appropriate forms that will legally bind you to keep the secrets that you’ve been given.”

M got her second surprise of the morning when, instead of transforming obediently, Q merely radiated supreme embarrassment and flattered his ears.  His eyes flicked back and forth between Alec and James, and M just barely heard the little plea in his mind.  

Alec, for all that his Gift wasn’t Telepathy, was the one who cleared his throat and spoke up, “Uh, that might be a problem actually.  You see, Q here - Quincy - doesn’t shift back and forth so well.  The first to a cat he can do fine, but once he’s there, he usually spends a few hours with Jamesy translating before he can turn back.”

This time, both of M’s eyebrows crawled upward towards her silvered hair.  She was in the process of probing Q’s thoughts for affirmation of that when James suddenly picked the little feline body up, and without warning Q’s mind was snapped up behind Bond’s mental walls.  M switched her gaze to her Gift-protege and thought pointedly, ‘Quite a trick, Mr. Bond.  Be careful whom you dare use it against.’  

“Sorry, I can’t hear you past this migraine,” the blue-eyed little shit had the audacity to reply - verbally - with a totally straight face.  Both Alec and Q swiveled to look at him, but James’s mask gave away nothing, even as his new, raw walls sewed themselves a little tighter about Q, sealing off his thoughts.  M suspected that he’d have done the same for the young man sitting next to him, but with that telepathic headache, James was already pushing his limits.  Later, M could call him on being a show-off, but she already doubted that Bond would ever lose his flair for the dramatic.

 In James’s arms, now tucked up against his chest and half-hidden behind his unzipped jacket (exactly where he’d wanted to be earlier), Q squirmed a little before letting out a squeaking mewl.  His high-pitched cry made James look down and shift his grip suddenly.  

“What is it?” Alec asked.

Something thunderous came over James’s expression.  M waited, holding back her telepathy, curious to see where this was going.  Honestly, this whole meeting had been as full of surprises as a first-rate action film, and she hadn’t been this entertained since she’d trained the last 007.  Still with his head bent to watch Q, James narrowed his eyes in a painful grimace of concentration before answering lowly, “Q’s hurt.”

“Fuck.”  Alec stiffened, and his anger M could hear loud and clear without even trying, “It was one of those bastards sent to pick him up, wasn’t it?”  

M sat back at her desk and folded her fingers over her stomach to watch how this played out.  

“Some of it’s from last night,” James admitted with a grimace, and had the good grace to look up at M with a chagrinned, caught-out expression.  She gave him an eloquent look that said she’d already known about all of that, leaving a window in her mind open for him to pluck that thought out if he felt like it - or if he had the mental strength right now.  “But yes.”  James traced one finger with infinite gentleness down the slope of Q’s feline spine.  The little mite shivered, and M began reaching for her keyboard to send a finely worded email to Agent MacGregor and Agent Hutchison’s handlers regarding how they carried out their orders.  M had seen how scratched up the men were, but no matter how much fight Q had put up, if he was a cat the whole time, then he’d clearly been treated with unnecessary brutality.  

M typed up the email swiftly and efficiently while Alec and James watched over their minute and rather traumatized friend.  Part of this meeting had been designed with a certain amount of trauma in mind, to get the seriousness of the issue across, but there was a difference between necessary callousness and true cruelty.  “Bond, Trevelyan, you’re to report to Medical, and I’ve informed them that you’ll be bringing a friend.  They’re equipped and ready to deal with a cat,” M spoke up, earning her two sets of eyes while the third, feline set of eyes remained closed.  Q appeared to have cuddled up with his weight supported by James’s right hand and arm, and if he was awake at all, had no intentions of interacting anymore with the rest of the world.  Alec had a hand out and was ever-so-lightly running a fingertip along one of the young man's - cat’s - ears.  It was easily the gentlest thing that M had ever seen Trevelyan do.  “I’ll have further orders for all three of you by the time Medical’s done,” she finished in a tone that said arguing would be deeply unwise.  

The events of the past half hour had served their purpose, because James and Alec were too cowed to do anything but say, “Yes, ma’am,” and get up to leave.  

However, M just caught something in Alec’s eyes that had her focusing her telepathy again, and her own eyes widened a fraction.  “Mr. Trevelyan,” she said sharply.

He turned, and James paused in tandem just ahead of him.  By now, Bond had hidden Q almost completely in his jacket, which was surprising largely because James seemed to avoid personal contact unless he was fighting or wooing, and this was neither.  Alec’s face was completely blank, and he was carefully putting to use every ounce of mental blocking that he knew - both from MI6 training and some, no doubt, picked up from his own resident Telepath.  “Yes?”

Already realizing that this was going to be a challenging talk, M said evenly but carefully, “Mr. MacGregor is my best Seeker.”

It was James’s turn to look bemused by the conversation going on beyond his notice, but while his blue gaze flicked back and forth between his best friend and his boss, M and Alec continued their subtle stare-down.  “Is that so?” Alec eventually replied in a conversational tone, even taking a second to formulate a smile.  

‘Damn.’  M could already see where this was going - nowhere good.  “Also keep in mind that Seekers are quite rare.”

Alec’s smile spread, and it was a jack-o-lantern grin, gaping and full of nothing but gallows-humor.  “Well, they’re going to get one man rarer if he and I get anywhere near each other,” Alec informed M shamelessly, and the older woman powerfully resisted the urge to sigh and put her face in her hands.  She let him finish his polite threat, “Any agent who’s nasty enough to hurt a kitten and stupid enough to put his name on his jacket doesn’t really deserve to be an MI6 agent.  That’s just my opinion.”

M decided to cut her losses, waving the three of them out of the room.  After the door had closed, she gave in to the urge to wipe a hand across her eyes.  She said once there was no one there to hear her resigned tone, “And if he’s not skilled enough to survive one trainee, he also doesn’t deserve his job.”  Chances were high that James would be there for the beating, too, and he’d probably pluck Hutchison’s name out of Macgregor’s head in time to make it a double-feature.  “God help them both,” M sighed against her palms, unsure if she was talking about her two trainees who had more recklessness than self-preservation, or her two senior agents who had forgotten that small-time prey wasn’t always toothless prey.  

~^~

Q’s forelegs were hanging between Bond’s fingers while his hindlegs were gently needling the underside of Bond’s forearm - not because he wanted to scratch him, but because Q so desperately needed solidity right now that it was all he could do not to cling with every claw he had.  These were the same clothes that he’d seen James in the night before, which indicated that he’d probably slept in them, something confirmed by Q’s nose, but he found the familiar scent as grounding as the touch, and tucked his head stubbornly against Bond’s chest until his every whisker was telling him that he was surrounded by something familiar.  

“It’s going to be all right, Q,” James reassured in a murmur, pushing Q’s ears back against his head with a gentle stroke.  

How the hell is all of this going to be all right?’ Q retorted in his head, but since James’s Telepathy seemed to be finicky at best today, all the other young man likely heard was an uncharitable little growl.  Q’s back still hurt, but he didn’t know if anything was legitimately damaged or if he was just feeling bruised skin and muscle, though his paw stung enough to drown out everything else.  He felt like a wreck, and it was all MI6’s fault, although some of that was just the pain talking - beneath it, he had to admit that he’d liked M a little, or at least he’d liked her willingness to forgive the security breach that he posed.  

He wasn’t sure what to think of this ‘Medical’, however.  

Q was still cuddled around James’s hand when they came to a stop, and the Telepath smartly didn’t try and disentangle him, because Q was in a very ‘Velcro’ mood.  In fact, the boffin ‘mrrrrr-ed warningly under his breath when James sat and put a hand to the fur of his nape, pressing his muzzle down against James’s middle fingertips and trying to translate his utter disinterest in moving.  

“Is this Mr. Boothroyd?” he heard a young female voice say from somewhere over his head.  

James answered tiredly in the affirmative.  Instead of pulling Q up, he rested his arm across his lap again, while also taking the fingers of his free hand and very, very lightly brushing Q’s lower spine and down towards his tail.  “I think someone grabbed him, and I don’t know how badly he’s hurt.”  James sounded like he was struggling very hard to sound calm and rational, and Q spared a moment to recall that he wasn’t the only one who needed some medical treatment.  Q had been around James before after he overworked his telepathy, and if the blue-eyed young man didn’t sleep for a  day then he spent it heavily medicated on painkillers and with discomfort making his every facial expression and movement subtly tight.  

With a singular skill that apparently didn’t change even when Alec was nursing a drugged hangover, the crow-Shifter very nearly verbalized Q’s worries: “Hey, James, how about you let me hold our fuzziest roommate?  You look like you’re about to topple over, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

This time it was Bond who growled, and Q moved enough to look up at him, seeing the tendon straining underneath his jaw as he swallowed.  “I do mind,” James snarked, then added, “and you look like shit, too.”

“You say the nicest things.”

The nurse, who turned out to be a plump young brunette with a kindly face, looked a bit unsure how to proceed but had one hand uncertainly stretched Q’s way.  “Uh…  Do you think…?  Could one of you hold your shape-shifter friend while I check him over?  I have veterinary training.”

Alec, insuppressible, immediately had a reply, “I’m also James’s shape-shifter friend.  And you could hold me all by yourself.”

The nurse had no idea how to deal with that, but it served to lighten the mood, and eventually Q was lifted up and moved.  He squirmed, and when he realized that it was a stranger lifting him, he had a moment of panic in which he did basically what he’d learned to do: cried out.  It was only logical that he do so, considering how quickly it always got results.  If he started kitten-crying, he was guaranteed to have James or Alec (generally both) ready to raise Hell or drag down Heaven to fix the problem.  So when he had strange hands wrapped around his ribcage and he was unable to extricate himself or change into a more formidable shape… he revealed his little white teeth and let loose a piercing distress cry better than any homing beacon.  

Needless to say, the nurse didn’t have Q’s cat shape in her hands for long.  Feeling a bit chagrined at behaving so shamelessly, Q had the decency to hunch down and give the young woman an apologetic look once he was comfortably stationed on Alec’s legs.  He endured the woman prodding at and touching him after that, trying to forget how the two agents had had their hands on him so roughly earlier, but it was hard.  He kept having to glance at James and Alec (the former on an adjacent hospital bed getting his vitals checked and the latter providing a horizontal surface for Q to perch on, with the evidence of pain pills by his hand) for reassurance.  

“Hey, Q.”  Alec’s voice was jovial in a way that made any sane person suspicious.  Q had been watching as the nurse went from feeling his spine to running her fingers embarrassingly all over his hindlegs, but now he swiveled his head to give Alec a narrow-eyed look.  The other Shifter smiled mischievously back at him.  “Want to hear what I did while you and James were off playing tag with the other trainees?”

Q’s ears flicked forward.  

Alec was no Telepath, but he took that as a yes and grinned a bit wider.  “Remember that Gift-tutor you had who was such a small-minded arse?”  The grin became positively evil.  “I paid her a visit.”

‘Alec!’ Q exclaimed in his head, shock making his eyes huge but also making him oblivious to the attention being paid to his paw - the lacerated one.  ‘Alec, you were drugged half out of your mind!  You shouldn’t have been doing anything but sleeping it off, so why the hell were you visiting people?!

Looking more smug than a snake in a bird’s nest, Alec murmured knowingly, “You’re shouting at me right now, aren’t you?  James, is he-?”

“Migraine, Alec,” the Telepath in question reminded.  

“But what about the tricks you were pulling back in M’s office?  Because I know that you were pulling tricks in there.”

This time it was a doctor who answered, sounding less than pleased as she drew up a syringe of milky liquid, “And those ‘tricks,’ as you called them, Mr. Trevelyan, are the reason your friend is now about to be heavily medicated.  I don’t want him using his Gift for at least a day.”

James looked as unhappy about that as anyone else, curling his lip like a disgruntled wolf, but he didn’t fight as his inner arm was swabbed and only snarled a little when the needle was pushed in.  

“Okay, well, anyway,” Alec returned gleefully to his story, forgetting any audience but Q.  “So there I was, no good to anybody, but then I started to think about that good-for-nothing tutor of yours.  See, the place James left me was near her flat-”

“It was?” James asked from one table over, disrupting the nurse trying to test his pupillary reaction.  The drugs they’d given him must have been pretty strong stuff if they were checking him over that carefully - or perhaps Telepaths were just so valuable that they were always treated a bit like persnickety thoroughbred racehorses.  

“Yup.”  Alec gave Q’s tail a little tug, a mindless habit that he had as a crow.  Q reflexively pulled his tail back in response, and it flopped across the veterinary nurse’s wrist.  She was reaching for antiseptic and gauze.  “I’ve been meaning to drop in on her for ages, to tell her just how pants she is at teaching.  So this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Alec, you couldn’t even stand upright!  Or fly,’ Q reminded him in exasperation that was too belated to matter.  Apparently, it had happened.

And apparently, James’s telepathy wasn’t one-hundred-percent off.  He translated from across the room.  In retaliation, the doctor slapped him hard on the shoulder and began a heated lecture on over-use of telepathy in relation to brain hemorrhaging.  The studies all sounded rather far-fetched and outdated to Q, but he wasn’t the one doing the quoting.  

“Oh, I could fly,” Alec assured, warming to his story.  When Q was distracted by a sharp stinging in his paw, Trevelyan had the audacity to tug at one of his ear-tips to regain his attention.  “Not in a straight line or for more than a few meters at a go, but I could fly.  I was just lucky that the window was unlatched, because I sort of fell through it.”

It was hard to focus on his paw being patched up when he was so flabbergasted at Alec’s antics.  He wished he didn’t believe him - but the problem was, he did.  Alec would totally do something this hairbrained at a moment’s notice.  

As the nurse continued to patch Q up (identifying nothing but bruising in his lower back and right shoulder, and a shallow cut across the pad of his right paw, the latter treated with a kind of animal-safe adhesive and the former with a cream that made his fur sticky but alleviated the pain immediately), Alec went on to weave his tale of adventure.  It included an absolutely abhorrent level of clumsiness, at least three laws that were broken, and one woman that would probably have a phobia of birds for the rest of her life.  Alec at least assured Q that he’d never shown his face, but it was mortifying enough just knowing that Alec had flown all around the woman’s kitchen like a massive, light-blinded moth - and that was before he picked up the knife in his beak.  Alec hadn’t had the coordination or gripping power to really do anything with a knife, but Mrs. Morris had started screaming before he’d finally lost his grip on the thing.  Both physically and metaphorically, raven-shaped Alec was more fluff than bite, but Mrs. Morris hadn’t known that.  

The cream rubbed into Q’s fur at strategic points was clearly also something of a soporific, because by the time Alec finished his story (an ending that included him more or less tumbling out the same way he’d come in), Q was swaying sleepily on his feet.  Alec looked tired, too, his own headache showing even if the pain meds were kicking in, and James sagged tiredly at his spot on the table.  

But everyone was smiling, and on the mend.  

~^~

Later, Q would indeed sign a helluva lot of paperwork to make him an official secret-keeper of MI6.  It would take weeks before he’d truly come to grip with the fact that MI6 had accepted his interference, but that acceptance would come even faster when Q’s gift with technology became apparent.  MI6 would be quite interested in Q’s ability to fix things - but even more interested in the coding and hacking skills that he didn’t make a habit of advertising.  

After their group trip to Medical, however, the three would be given a day of grace.  They’d leave MI6 with the promise of returning within twenty-four hours - and, of course, the promise that they not try and make a run for it.  All any of them would care about, of course, was finding a dark hole to curl up in and sleep this whole ordeal off - because funny story or not, pain-meds or not, James and Alec would have terrible headaches and Q would be well-drugged to docility.  

Q would miss his job interview, but would later realize that he’d survived a more important one with the head of MI6.  

With Q’s flat in shambles, there would be no question about returning to James's and Alec’s flat.  They’d almost fall asleep on the cab-ride over, and would more or less stumble inside, Q making the trip as a cat in James’s hood.  Q would pass out happily in that hood while his two friends - after exchanging only one fatigued glance to make the decision - pushed their two beds together.  Sometimes the desire for safety after a trying day would override such social niceties as personal space.    

Silently, exhaustedly, but with a little feeling of triumph in their bones to keep them going just a bit longer, James and Alec would strip out of their worn clothes and take turns in the shower - Alec first, while James unsnagged Q’s claws from his hood to deposit the cat on the nearest pillow instead.  Then James (who’d come back out of the shower to make room for himself on the beds), would take just enough time to follow Alec’s example and pull on a pair of jogging trousers.  The two agent trainees would fall asleep with their heads near Q, who would look like an absolute mess but who would also be purring in bursts and stutters.   

While the sun rose on a rare sunny day in London, held back by closed blinds, Q would eventually transform back in his sleep - a change in dimensions that would make everyone grumble for a moment.  James and Alec would recognize a friend from a foe, however, and barely open their eyes as everyone readjusted to a larger third body in the bed.  Soon Q would have a spot in between them, barely even waking himself, his bruised back to Alec’s warm front and his tousled hair tickling James’s nose until the latter got up with a snort.  Once awake, James would truly take Q in, sigh, and then pull off his shoes.  After that, everybody would be comfortable, and frankly too battered, worn, and medicated to care about anything else.  

No one would care about three uni students curled up like three fledglings in the same nest.

No one would care about two fledgling spies bracketing a boffin who should have been an oblivious nobody.  

No one would care about the seemingly oblivious nobody who would soon become just as valuable to MI6 as the two reckless trainees he was sleeping between.  Actually, that would be incorrect: many people would care a helluva lot, when they realized that three university students were actually going to shake MI6 to its foundations.  

But that would all come later, after a lazy morning of well-earned rest.