Friday, 29 March 2013
“I hate coming down here,” Alec muttered under his breath as he and James stepped out of the underground lift. Three-quarters of the techs in Q Branch were undead, and while the air here didn’t reek like the infested cemeteries did, the techs all made his hackles rise. “I don’t bloody care what Mallory says —”
“They’re not going to attack us,” James said just as softly.
“Lying shit. They want to — that’s what counts.”
James shot Alec a grin as he put a hand on the door that led to the main workcentre. “True. And if they do...”
Alec nodded, hearing the unspoken words. MI6 regs about interspecies fighting only went so far, after all. They were all supposedly civilised beings here, but accidents happened.
MI6 had been four months without an incident, and that had been provoked by Silva’s attack. Even Alec could understand damaged, crazed, starving vampires gorging on whoever was at hand, and they’d all controlled themselves enough that no one died, though 0014 had been in hospital for two weeks after she’d been trapped in Boothroyd’s old lab.
None of that made him feel any better about walking through the glass doors and into the workcentre.
Usually, the Double O’s and Q Branch’s techs met on neutral ground upstairs or offsite, where no one would feel cornered or outnumbered. But it was late on a Friday afternoon, and most of the techs should’ve been packing to go home for the weekend. Alec and James had the brilliant plan of going down to drop off what little kit was left over from their joint mission to Sydney, rather than wasting two hours to book a meeting room and get one of the techs to come aboveground. Pop below, drop off their gear, then head out for a Friday night on the town. Simple plan.
Now, though, Alec wondered if someone had started a bloody war or something and not bothered to notify the Double O’s. Q Branch was packed. There had to be forty techs on duty at the moment, which meant something like thirty vampires. Thirty supposedly domesticated, supposedly in-control-of-themselves vampires, and every one of them would happily feast on a werewolf’s blood, given half the chance.
He had to fight back the urge to growl and snap at the vampires who looked up from their computers to watch him and James pass. The same tension radiated off James like static electricity, feeding Alec’s urge to fight, until he wondered if this had been a bloody stupid idea after all.
“Oh, fucking hell,” James said with a sigh. “End-of-month reports.”
“Bugger.” Alec slowed and glanced back at the glass doors, wondering if it would be seen as a retreat if he and James turned around and left. End-of-month reports meant everyone had paperwork to do... and Alec honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d done any paperwork at all. “We’ve got, what... three, four months of backlog?”
“Before Silva,” James muttered, clearly also thinking in terms of a strategic withdrawal from the battlefield. “Right, new plan. First tech we spot —”
“Someone new,” Alec interrupted, looking around for anyone he didn’t recognise. There’d been a flurry of new hires after Silva, with people quitting out of cowardice or getting sacked when they couldn’t pass more stringent security requirements. Someone new wouldn’t think to challenge MI6’s two senior Double O’s on the matter of paperwork.
“Please understand that the equipment we issue takes months — sometimes years — to develop,” came a quiet voice, even and smooth, from down a nearby hallway.
Alec turned and saw a young man — surely too young to be anyone senior, despite his commanding tone. He was facing off against one of the human field agents — Sanders, Alec thought, though he tended to not pay attention to the humans. The young tech, though... He was definitely worth a second look. James’ height, dark hair that made Alec’s fingers itch to touch, a slender and graceful body concealed under the sort of cutting-edge fashion that a vampire would wear to the office. He didn’t smell dead, though, so maybe he was a human trying to fit in — and a human tech was just what Alec and James needed.
“And while I’m perfectly aware that the mission must always come first, I’m also aware that your mission was nothing more than surveillance and a small bit of information gathering.” The young tech stopped and turned to face the agent, his neutral mask slipping to reveal something more predatory underneath — something not human. “So if you ever return my equipment in this state again, you’ll be lucky if I leave you with a pint of blood left in that useless system of yours.”
What the fuck? Alec shot a look at James, who was staring back at the young man without a hint of surprise. Wondering if something had gone wrong on his last mission — some slow-acting toxin that had dulled Alec's senses but left James' sharp — he turned back to stare at the young man and inhaled deep and slow, tasting the air.
He still didn’t reek like a dead thing. At this distance, he didn’t smell of anything at all, in fact, other than dryer sheets and soap.
What the fuck? Alec thought again, and still came up with no useful answers.
As Sanders fled, James said, “Q. Just the person we wanted to see.”
Q. As in, the Q. The Quartermaster. The bloody fucking Quartermaster who was apparently some sort of... young not-quite-vampire... something.
Alec was going to kill James. Thoroughly and painfully. James had met the bloody Quartermaster months ago and hadn’t said one fucking word to warn Alec.
Q glanced over and eyed them both. “Good evening, 007.”
He walked towards them, and the air around him seemed to crackle with sharp ozone, like the stillness before a thunderstorm. Alec’s senses came alive, tasting power and lightning and the sweet, raw bite of wind and snow. With every step Q took, Alec’s pulse picked up until his heart was pounding against his ribs.
Calmly, Q looked from James to Alec, and he gave an entirely professional nod. “You must be 006. Back from your mission, I see. What have you both got for me?”
Entirely unaffected by the Quartermaster, James tugged at the messenger bag that Alec was carrying. Alec snapped out of his daze and let James slide the strap free. “Just returning our kit,” James said smoothly, extending the bag to Q at arm’s length.
What the fuck? Alec thought for a third time. All he wanted to do was pin the Quartermaster against the wall in some dark corner and let his senses run wild, and James was acting as if Q were some normal, boring human? One of them must have been drugged on-mission.
Q reached out to take the bag. He flipped open the top and let out a derisive huff at the lack of contents inside. As he searched the pockets, he said, “You know, Bond, I don’t remember sending you out with this bag, but I do remember sending you with two guns, a radio, and a prototype cloud-based flash drive.” He looked challengingly at James. “Is there a reason you felt the need to return only the radio and a bag I don’t want?”
“Consumables,” James tried with a grin that would seem sheepish only to someone who didn’t know him. “We did get you the files you wanted.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Q narrowed his eyes. “But just because the files transferred properly to our servers, it doesn’t mean you get to leave the drive behind. I know this may come as a bit of a shock to you, but the tech we give you actually has the capability of being reused.”
Alec shifted his weight before he caught himself, realising he had started to close the distance to the Quartermaster. He forced himself back instead and leaned casually against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest.
“It’s impossible to anticipate all contingencies that come up in the field,” James said, dropping his attempts at being charming. “Our priority was mission first, survival second, everything else third.”
“I don’t even know why you two need sodding guns.” Q waved a hand vaguely in their direction. “You always manage to come back in one piece. My tech never does.” He sighed and closed his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose. It wasn’t exhaustion — vampires didn’t get tired like that. Rather, Alec suspected it was exasperation at having more of his gear destroyed or lost in the field.
“I appreciate you getting me the data. You missed nothing there, I must say. It’s rare someone gets me all the information I need, not just what they think is useful.” Q lifted the bag onto his shoulder. “Was there anything else you needed?”
Alec could think of a list — a very, very long list — though he kept his mouth shut for once.
After a heartbeat, James’ grin flashed to life once more, and he said, “Nothing. Have a lovely weekend, Q.”
Q opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it. He smiled and nodded at them both again before turning to head back towards the workcentre. Even his walk was hypnotic, balanced somewhere between a predator’s light-footed stalk and an enticing strut. He should have been uncoordinated and clumsy, gangly and long-limbed as he was, but he moved like a damned dancer.
A hand clenched Alec’s arm, and he reacted thoughtlessly, letting out a snarl that drowned out the sound of clicking keyboards and the drone of chatting techs. He turned, shoved, and nearly went for James’ throat before he stopped himself at the last instant.
“Easy,” James said calmly, though Alec could feel the battle-readiness crackling through them both.
An uncomfortable, unfamiliar sense of guilt welled up inside Alec. He let go and backed away, refusing to try and see where the Quartermaster had gone. “Sorry,” he muttered, realising only then that he hadn’t spoken a single word since seeing the Quartermaster.
“Out,” James said, starting towards the door.
Out. That was the best fucking plan Alec had heard all bloody day. He started to follow, only to be brought up short by a voice at his back.
“Is there a problem, 006?” Q asked quietly. He sounded close. Too close. Alec turned to find Q standing directly behind him. He met Alec’s eyes before slowly gazing down the length of Alec’s body.
Either the young new Quartermaster was suicidally insane or fearlessly confident. No one ever challenged a post-mission Double O, werewolf or not. Dangerously intrigued, Alec returned the look, wondering about the best way to get Q alone somewhere. Setting Q Branch on fire seemed like a brilliant plan.
Then James pushed between them, giving Alec a hard shove away, blocking his view of the Quartermaster. “Sorry, Q. You know how it is, after a mission,” James said, his voice nearly a growl. “We’ll leave you to your...” He waved a hand at the staring crowd of techs who weren’t even pretending to work anymore.
Q flicked a quick glance in the direction of the rest of the branch before leveling his gaze at James. “Oh, I’m well aware of what you’re like post-mission,” he all but purred at them. “Thank you for returning at least some of the equipment. I’ll analyse the data you sent over, and if there’s anything else I need” — he smiled avariciously — “I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Torn between snapping at James and going after Q, Alec did nothing at all. He let Q leave and let James herd him out of the department, back into the lift.
As the doors slid closed, Alec’s mind finally cleared. “Fucking hell,” he muttered as his possessiveness and lust finally drained away. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, feeling the vibration as the lift finally started to ascend.
“That’s our Quartermaster,” James growled possessively.
Alec straightened and met James’ glare with one of his own. “Your Quartermaster, you mean?” he demanded, letting anger bury his sudden sense of being pushed aside for someone else. For seventy years, it had been James and Alec against anything the world threw at them. No one came between them — apparently until now.
James took a step back, startled. He frowned, shaking his head as though coming out of a daze. “No. I — Fuck,” he muttered, running a hand through his short-cropped hair.
So it had been instinctive. Unconscious rather than deliberate. Just like Alec’s own reaction.
“Yeah,” Alec said more gently. “What the fuck is it about him?”
James shook his head. “No idea. Nothing, as far as I can tell. He’s not old, not... significant.”
“Are you sure about that?”
James’ hesitation was answer enough. There was something about Q. Now they just had to find out what.
Sighing, James leaned against the wall by the doors, twisting to watch the numbers count up. Q Branch was buried far deeper underground than either werewolf liked; it took too long to get back up, even to the underground garage.
“He’s not a threat,” James finally said.
“He’s a bloody vampire.”
James grimaced. “He’s loyal. He proved that.”
“Still a vampire.”
Huffing in frustration, James turned back to meet Alec’s gaze. “You didn’t seem to care about that two minutes ago.”
Alec shrugged. “No — but neither did you.”
Alec nodded with grim amusement. “There’s an idea.”
James raised a brow. This time, he was the one who said, “A vampire?”
Alec shrugged. The very thought of most vampires made his skin crawl, but Q wasn’t like the others. He wasn’t some dead thing lying in wait in a mouldering tomb or scrabbling in alleys for rats. And he didn’t feel old, his predatory edge blunted by decades or centuries of association with humans and playing with technology — nor was he young and clumsy with his power. He wasn’t even a so-called country vampire, hiding away in luxury with human servants willing to let him feed on them whenever he chose. He was... something else.
“When was the last time we had something new to try?”
“A vampire,” James repeated, this time as if trying on the idea for size.
“Oh, don’t fucking give me that. You were thinking it from the day you met the bastard.”
James grinned. “Fair enough.”
Q shut the door to his office and leaned back against it. He closed his eyes and smiled, letting the last few minutes roll off of him. He had hoped that when Bond returned from the Sydney mission, he would bring Trevelyan with him to return the equipment — if they’d had any equipment to return at all. Which, if he were being honest with himself, he was rather surprised that they did.
The moment Q had laid eyes on Bond, back at the National Gallery, he’d been interested. Fascinated, even. Q had had werewolves before, but he’d never met one like Bond. Sitting on the bench, their sleeves brushing, the air between them had carried an electric charge that shocked them both the moment they’d clasped hands.
They’d never spoken about it — not then and not afterwards. Silva’s attack on MI6 had consumed them for weeks. And then, everything had gone back to normal, with the werewolves in the field division avoiding the vampires in TSS.
But Q had waited. He’d known that Bond would come find him, and that wait had paid off. Trevelyan was equally intriguing, equally appealing, and Q... Q wasn’t the type to choose. He’d wanted Bond from that very first day, and now he wanted them both. The why he could figure out later, once they were his. There was something about both wolves that Q had never felt, something he wanted to claim for his own.
They’d each made their opening moves — Q at the National Gallery, when he’d started this game, and now the wolves coming down into Q’s territory. A thrill of anticipation ran through Q as he wondered what he should do next. It was his turn, after all.
Find them, he decided as he pushed away from the door. He’d find them away from MI6, away from the blandly neutral territory of the National Gallery. He’d discover where they went during their off hours and consider how he would make his move, if the moment was right.
He had his office shut down and locked up in moments. He’d go home, drop off his secure laptop, and use his resources to track down his two werewolves.
Without a word to his staff, Q stepped into the lift and took it up to the parking garage. A half dozen storeys later, he exited and reached into his bag to retrieve his keys, only to freeze. Someone else was there in the garage, and not someone simply walking to their car. He could sense a quiet presence off to his left, directly in the path he would take to his car.
He didn’t hesitate; he lowered his bag to the concrete before he spun around, his fangs dropping down without conscious thought. He took on a defensive stance and growled, “Who’s there?”
“Should we be offended that he doesn’t recognise us? I’m offended.”
For a moment, Q couldn’t place the voice. Then, as he heard a more familiar laugh — Bond — he realised it had to be Trevelyan. Down in Q Branch, the man had said one single word, when he’d muttered a quiet apology to Bond. Apparently he’d found his voice — a nice, deep voice, full of interest and sly humour.
“We’re assassins,” Bond pointed out, still laughing. “We’re supposed to be good at hiding.”
“I wasn’t hiding,” Trevelyan countered. “Lurking, maybe, but not hiding.”
Q took a steadying breath and straightened up. He grabbed his bag off the ground and cautiously started walking slowly towards the pair, still buried in the shadows of the garage. “I’m going to have to go with Trevelyan on this one,” he said as he pulled his fangs back in. Even if he couldn’t see them clearly, he didn’t sense danger from either agent. “I’ve monitored your missions, remember? Even when you are hiding, you still come off as lurking. Which begs the question. Why are you lurking?”
“Consider it a professional form of waiting,” Bond answered.
“Less bloody boring, you mean,” Trevelyan countered.
Bond laughed. “We can lurk on the clock. It’s a critical job skill. Wouldn’t you agree, Q?” The name came out as a low purr.
Q stopped and grinned. “If that were true, then I’m surprised you don’t write off half of your bar fights as combat training.”
“Fucking brilliant plan,” Trevelyan approved, glancing at Bond.
“And we can blame him for it,” Bond added with a grin of his own.
“If it teaches you lot how to be more creative about holding onto your weapons, I’ll sign off on it personally,” Q offered with a laugh. He strained to see the agents, but even with his heightened senses, he could barely make out their forms. It was the one thing that grated on him about his vampiric self. He’d been almost completely blind when human, so while his eyesight had improved dramatically when he’d been turned, he still needed to wear glasses for distance.
“As if we’d bring weapons to a bar brawl,” Bond scoffed. “You don’t know us very well, do you?”
“He won’t get the chance, all the way over there. Come a little closer, Quartermaster,” Trevelyan invited. “Or are you waiting for the right moment to turn and run off?”
“That would imply I’m frightened of you, Trevelyan,” Q answered evenly. “And I can assure you, I’m not.”
He stepped forward until he was just out of arm’s length from the agents and stopped. They’d chosen their ‘lurking’ spot well — a pool of deep shadow that Q knew had been artificially created by the timely death of one or two overhead lights. They were very near his car — not right beside it, but directly in the path he had to take to get to it. Had they been planning this or was this, like so many other things the Double O’s seemed to do, simply an impulse?
Downstairs, they’d both been on edge. Trevelyan’s tension had been obvious to the point where Q had debated sending his techs away to minimise the chance of triggering a violent reaction in the deadly, overtrained werewolf — a reaction that would have surely pulled Bond into the chaos, even if he’d been more in control of himself.
Now, they were both relaxed, shoulders down, weight no longer balanced on their toes. Bond had his suit jacket pushed back so he could put his hands in his pockets. Trevelyan’s arms were crossed, but not defensively; he was leaning casually against a heavy cement support post, wearing a cocky, lopsided little smile.
The last of Q’s reticence drained away. He didn’t know Trevelyan well, but he knew Bond. Regardless of the general hostility between vampires and werewolves, Bond had earned his trust during the Silva incident, and Q believed the feeling was mutual. Whatever their reasons were for being down here, it wasn’t to attack him.
To show his trust, Q set his bag down again and took the last couple of steps to crowd into Trevelyan’s space — just short of touching, close enough to feel the wolf’s heat. Q looked up into his face and gave the agent a cocky, half-smile. “See, 006? Not running.”
Trevelyan didn’t move except to tip his head down, watching with an intensity that Q felt like fire on his skin. This wasn’t just an MI6 agent; this was a Double O and a werewolf, making him one of the deadliest creatures in the world. And right now, Q was delighted to have Trevelyan’s full attention focused solely on him.
“What are you?” Trevelyan asked softly, almost to himself.
“Exactly what you think I am,” Q replied, just as softly. He maintained eye contact, wary that Trevelyan might take it as a sign of aggression. He really wasn’t afraid of the agent, but even the most controlled werewolves could snap under this sort of intensity. And if Trevelyan did snap, there was no telling what Bond would do.
The thought should have made Q turn away but, insanely, all he really wanted to do was push further.
Bond laughed softly, though without any real humour, as far as Q could tell. “It’s my fault entirely for not introducing you two before.”
Q felt a delicious shiver go down his spine at the jealous edge in Bond’s voice. “I was beginning to wonder where you might be keeping him,” Q mused, never taking his eyes off Trevelyan. “I’m so glad to see he’s finally come out to play.”
“You’re the one who stayed hiding underground,” Bond said just a bit too brusquely.
Trevelyan looked up at that, and Q felt the tension coiled inside ease. He still didn’t know what to make of Trevelyan. The domesticated werewolves easily blended in with society, since they could keep themselves in check, even in wolf form. The feral ones, though... They were little more than vicious animals, regardless of their form. They tended to form packs and hierarchies, complete with violent conflicts over rank and territory.
According to their files, Bond wasn’t feral, and Trevelyan, who had been born feral, was reformed, but neither had gone so far as to become a ‘city’ wolf. There was still an edge to both of them — especially Trevelyan — that should have had Q itching to fight. So why wasn’t he?
“He’s here now,” Trevelyan said, his voice absolutely neutral. But then, as one corner of his mouth quirked back up in a lopsided smile, he looked back down at Q. The rush of interest crackled to life between them again. “And he’s not running. Are you running, Quartermaster?” he all but purred, making Q wonder what answer he was hoping to hear.
“Only when I’m giving chase, 006,” Q replied with a devious smile. He could feel the seduction radiating off of Trevelyan, reminding Q of the last sunset of his short human life: slow and blazing, but brilliant to behold.
“We’re not very good at running,” Bond said, and somehow he’d got right behind Q, while Trevelyan had distracted him.
“But could you imagine how fun that could be?” Q asked breathlessly, reminding himself that Bond wasn’t a threat.
“You couldn’t catch us,” Bond said very softly, warm breath stirring Q’s hair.
With a cocky laugh, Trevelyan added, “But you’re welcome to try.”
Encouraged by their open interest, Q did the unthinkable, for a vampire: He stepped back, bringing his body flush with Bond’s. He knew he was risking his life by touching a werewolf without invitation, but he was confident that Bond wouldn’t respond with claws and fangs, no matter how strong his instinct.
The moment he made contact, he felt... something, something more than heat and solid muscle and living flesh. Tingles crawled over his skin, subtle but enticing, like touching an electrostatic generator. Bond must have also felt it; he let out a sharp exhale that turned into a low, interested growl. It was, Q realised distantly, very much like the sparks that had flown when they’d shaken hands in the National Gallery, only this time it was everywhere, power crawling over every inch of his skin, sinking deep into him.
He’d never felt more alive.
Bond let out a low breath, a quiet growl buried under his exhale. Q had to concentrate to focus on Trevelyan, in front of him, watching them intently. Then Bond shifted his weight, leaning forward just enough to push back against Q, and the power swept over him again. God, what would this feel like without the barrier of clothing between them?
Then Trevelyan cut into Q’s thoughts, casually asking, “Dinner?”
Q glanced at Trevelyan, confused. He thought the wolf’s movement had meant their interaction was finally leading somewhere interesting. He hadn’t thought that it meant going out for a meal. After all, he wasn’t looking for a date. “I’m sorry, but are you —”
“Dinner,” Bond said just as casually, cutting Q off. He stepped back, leaving a chill to take the place of his warm presence at Q’s back. “I’m starved.”
Trevelyan grinned at Q, polite and friendly, if a bit toothy. “Have a pleasant night, Quartermaster.”
“I... Goodnight, Trevelyan.” Q came up short, completely caught off guard that they hadn’t meant dinner with him. He shook his head and stepped to the side as quickly as possible. He was completely at a loss as to what he’d missed in that interaction, but he wasn’t stupid enough to press the issue. He looked up at Bond and said, “Goodnight, 007.”
“Q,” Bond purred just as he had that first day they’d met, in the National Gallery.
Then the two werewolves left, silently walking side-by-side into the dark parking garage. Q’s sharp senses picked up the faint jangle of keys, followed by the echoing beep of a car alarm.
Q stood for a moment and watched them go. After finding them down here, he’d expected the advances, but not the retreat. There was no way he was going to let them get away that easily, though. After Trevelyan and Bond had shown up in the tunnels, he’d wanted to find them. Just because they’d found him first meant nothing. It was still his turn to hunt them down.
“When are you going to replace your bloody car?” Alec asked as he went around to the driver’s seat of his Range Rover. “I’m sick of being your damned chauffeur.”
“You can let me drive,” James pointed out as he climbed into the passenger’s seat. The heavy SUV had gone through Boothroyd’s old lab just last year, and Boothroyd hadn’t held back in his upgrades. James saw no reason to find a replacement for his old, beloved Aston-Martin when there was a perfectly good, if modern, substitute at hand. It wasn’t as if he and Alec went out separately very often.
“Bugger off.” Alec got in and slammed his door, looking up in the rearview mirror before he even turned on the engine. Very softly, he asked, “Think he’ll follow us?”
James considered what little he knew of their Quartermaster. He looked to be in his mid-to-late twenties, but that meant nothing when dealing with a vampire. A bit of digging in MI6’s computers verified that he’d passed his security clearance checks — obvious, really, but James had to start somewhere — but that was all. With their quick wits and love of technology, vampires had been at the forefront of computer system design for decades. The only records vampires allowed of their kind were the ones they themselves kept. Even James couldn’t break those systems, and the vampire sysadmins weren’t likely to respond to a werewolf’s information release request.
Q was cocky, yes, but he was also clever and patient. Months ago, after their first meeting at the National Gallery, James had expected Q would come find him. When he hadn’t, James had eventually assumed that he’d misread Q’s interest. Judging by today, though, apparently James had been wrong. Q had simply out-waited him.
“He won’t follow,” he finally said.
James shot Alec a grin. “But he might try to hunt us.”
Alec grinned back. “I can’t wait.”