Actions

Work Header

Prince of the House of the Havenots

Chapter Text

James had, in some part of his mind, hoped that being promoted to 00-agent status would make certain parts of his job more bearable, or at least more fun.  Sadly, a licence to kill did absolutely nothing to make airports more bearable.  

The mission had been a success, and James had gotten through it with no more scrapes and bruises than he could hide.  The South American airport was just a few degrees too warm to be comfortable, but it lent itself to a certain lassitude even as James slouched in a chair designed so that no normal human being could possibly be comfortable in it.  All MI6 agents were well-versed in sleeping whenever and wherever they could, and James himself was quite a pro at it, so in defiance of the chair’s ergonomic ineptitude, the agent found a position that wasn’t half-bad. For once, James hadn’t offended anyone so badly that he needed to flee the country at all speed, so he settled in for the hour’s wait ahead of him, indulging in one of the rarest commodities in his life: laziness.  Most of the time, he couldn’t afford it.

The buzzing of his phone in his pocket made 007 flinch back into wakefulness, startled for two reasons: one being the fact that he hadn’t remember turning the vibrate function on after the danger of the mission passed - and two being the fact that only MI6 had his number anyway.  Frowning, he looked at the screen without answering at first, his expression lightening to something grimly wry as he recognized the extension for Q-branch.  The old man who ran the place must have gotten wind of Bond’s preliminary mission report, in which he’d had to sadly admit that all of his tech had been lost, destroyed, or a creative combination of both.  James had gotten a few lectures on the subject before… maybe more than a few… but besides calling him destructive, people also said that James was a bit of a masochist, so he answered the phone.  “Pinky's Porno Palace.... what's your pleasure?" he answered cheerily.

Instead of getting the old Quartermaster’s offended huff, James got M’s deeply world-weary, “Good god, I knew I made you 007 too early.  Bond, please tell me that you’re sober.  I’d rather attribute this to your normal personality, because there’s something I need you to check up on.”  

“What do you need?” James sat up straight, laziness forgotten.  He was a bit miffed by the fact that he was indeed quite sober - and he had the sinking suspicion that he was going to stay that way.  “And why are you calling me on this line?”

“Because things have gotten a bit interesting,” M said with transparent annoyance, which had James’s interest fully piqued.  He got along with M for two reasons: she respected his skills, and because she was as tough as a old tomcat, and just as impossible to ruffle.  Now, she sounded ruffled, and if James was hearing it, then this was serious.  “Your flight has been cancelled.  I’ll tell you more on a secure line,” she finished, and that was that.  

“So much for being lazy,” James sighed, picking up his jacket - his only real ‘luggage,’ as he’d lost even his Walther in his last scrap - and folding it neatly over one arm as he stood.  

~^~

Apparently, MI6 had been hacked.  Q-branch had been the ones to discover it, and that was why M had been down there - apparently the firewall breach had been spectacular enough to warrant her coming down to see what the hell was going on.  From what M had said, they’d ultimately repelled the attacker and even managed to back-hack the fellow a bit.  That was the information given to James now.  “We don’t have a name, but according to Q-branch’s tech-analysts, the techniques used to breach our firewalls have been seen before, and the perpetrator was possibly caught on camera one year ago.”

“Possibly?”  

“It’s the best we’ve got.  Thankfully, we’re more certain on the location: the source of the attack is about an hour’s drive from your location, if you can get ahead of the evening rush.”

“Can you give me anything more?”

“The Quartermaster has his people trying to dig up more information now.  Wait for our update before doing anything.”

M’s last command had been stern enough that, an hour and a half later, James was still behaving himself.  Sitting nonchalantly in a little outdoor cafe, jacket now draped over the back of his chair and two buttons undone on his shirt to survive the Buenos Aires heat, James made the best of his foreshortened break between missions.  The drink in his hand right now - sadly nonalcoholic - was all he was going to get before rushing into danger again, apparently.  As he eyed the admittedly very good coffee, he mollified himself with the fact that at least he was avoiding London’s winter weather.  It was quite nice here, really, considering the fact that it was supposed to be snowing soon back at home.  

Waiting for M to call again, James looked at the photo that had been sent to his mobile, analytically committing the details to memory.  It was a pretty grainy photo, apparently pulled from security footage, and the grainy quality of the picture said that MI6 had had to zoom in quite a lot to find the dark-haired figure in the corner of the screen.  It was black and white, but James was able to generally get an impression of young, male features - a bit on the pretty side - lots of dark hair, and glasses.  Unless the picture was lying, this looked like an image of someone too young to be living on his own, much less hacking major corporations, business, and secret organizations.  

M hadn’t said yet what she wanted done with the hacker.  Considering the thinly veiled emotions in her otherwise frigid voice, James had his suspicions.  You didn’t just hack MI6 and live to talk about it.  

Still thinking pragmatic thoughts, James felt his phone begin vibrating again before the screen switched automatically to ‘Incoming Call.’  This time he answered more professionally, “Yes?”

It was actually the Quartermaster this time, his voice granite-like and grim - but James could hear the cracks around the edges that said the man was deeply unsettled.  No one was playing around on this one; someone had broken in MI6, and Bond suspected that the hacker had made it look easy.  “My analysts were able to follow the breadcrumbs, if you will,” the Quartermaster said, trying for an aloof tone.  He probably would have managed it, except James was a gifted spy, and could read between the lines to the anxiety and anger beneath.  “It would seem that our hacker is part of an organization called - quaintly enough - the House of the Havenots.”

“Never heard of it,” James said, even as he smiled charmingly at a passing waitress.  She smiled back.  

“Your predecessor was investigating them almost a decade ago,” was the slightly bemused sounding answer. “They’re a shadow organization that specializes in child-soldiers, and while the previous 007 was able to take down one of their branches, we always suspected that we missed the head of the beast.  We never knew the location of their home base.”

“And now…?” James pressed, taking another sip of coffee and waiting for the data that would inevitably come.  The Quartermaster tended to draw things out a bit, but for once, James wasn’t in a rush.  

“But now, I think we do.  The hacker was good, but were able to-  What do you call it?”  The Quartermaster’s voice grew a bit muffled, as if he were talking to someone else and hadn’t quite covered the receiver fully.  “ ‘Back-hacked’?  Is that the word?  Damn it all, why do people keep inventing these new words…”  The Quartermaster’s voice came back fully, not seeming to realize that his momentary flash of temper had been heard.  “We were able to return the favor, and broke into the Havenots’ systems.  My people said they had to cease their hunt for information before they were found out, but we’ve nonetheless gained access to enough files and records to confirm that this is the same organization that used to sell highly trained and dangerous children to the highest bidder.”

“Doesn’t sound like the past-tense is entirely accurate, now, does it?” James drawled, finishing his coffee.  “I take it you want me to pay them a visit?”  The waitress was still watching him, her smile increasingly flirtatious.

“Since you’re in the area.  You also have an active alias that you miraculously haven’t burned yet,” was the response, thinly veiled sarcasm in the words.  

James only half-heard him, more interested in the way the waitress had removed her apron and was sauntering over.  At first, it piqued James’ interest, but then he realized that he was on a schedule.  Reality was like an annoying pitch of cold water being poured on his head.  So, just as the girl got within hearing range, James replied to the Quartermaster in a tone designed to carry, “Consider it done, love.  And don’t wait up - I’m sure I can find a creative way to tell you when I’m home, hm?”

As the Quartermaster sputtered and the waitress abruptly changed tactics (politely waving at the apparently-not-single man before heading out the door and back to her regular life), James smirked and hung up.  He was texted the specific coordinates of his target a full three minutes later, presumably after the Quartermaster had stopped cursing his name.  

~^~

Richard Sterling was an up-and-coming businessman who was just wealthy enough to open doors but not so much that he was a household name.  It was a flexible alias that James rather liked, and actually made an effort to maintain.  ‘Sterling’ had done enough sketchy things that he was a decent candidate for entering the House of the Havenots, although actually getting an invitation still would have taken days - maybe weeks - if it weren’t for a stroke of luck on Q-branch’s part.  When they’d traced the hacker back to his home base, the weaknesses they’d found had been regarding ‘buyer registries.’  Now, James found this highly suspicious (because agents believed in bad luck, but they certainly did not believe in good luck), but he was still grateful that it had allowed Q-branch to ‘schedule him in,’ as it were.  Now, instead of having to wheedle and con his way into the House of the Havenots over who-knew-how-long, James was scheduled to visit the place late this evening, and apparently Q-branch had done their job well enough so that no one would realize that Richard Sterling didn’t belong on that list.  

It was all a little bit too easy for James’ taste, but M had made it clear that they couldn’t waste time on this.  Someone had hacked right into MI6 like a stray feline sauntering through a cat door, and M wanted this handled before the perpetrator could either try again, or sell what they knew to the highest bidder.  

James had gotten his orders on what to do with the individual: capture if possible, kill if not.  This was a threat of the highest level, and MI6 couldn’t afford to fuck around on this one.  James admittedly wasn’t the most savvy with a computer, but even he could understand the risk.  The only real reason he was hoping that he could capture the hacker was because James was still minus his Walther…

The House of the Havenots’ cover was a winery; a vineyard spread beyond it and allowed for the ownership of quite a lot of land - lots of space, although when James arrived, he was still curious as to how big this operation was.  He couldn’t imagine where they could be hiding their illicit business, because everything he saw looked normal and respectable.  

James’ earbud gave a little buzz, the sound of the Quartermaster clearing his throat too close to the microphone.  This was one of many reasons that Bond was developing a habit of destroying earbuds - he’d forgotten to, this time, but only because he’d put it into his coat-pocket and forgotten about it days ago.  Now he’d put it in because the only thing worse than having back-seat drivers nattering in his ear was going into a situation like this blind - James was brash, but not suicidal.  “Remember, when you get in, ask-”

“Ask for the house specialty, I know,” James murmured back.  His driver pulled away, leaving him in front of a tastefully understated building, ‘Have Not Want Not Winery’ in a sign above the front door.  The first two words were set above the rest, and edged in silver paint, and James had to smile a bit at the secondary advertising.  

“You have a habit of going in guns-first,” the Quartermaster grumbled back, “Pardon me for feeling the need to remind you of more subtly means of entry.”

James still hadn’t exactly mentioned the fact that he was unarmed, so he replied carefully, “Contrary to popular belief, I’m capable of subtlety.”  Sometimes he even chose to be subtle voluntarily.  Today, however, he’d have to do it by necessity, unless he wanted to get himself up a metaphorical creek without a paddle.  Entering the establishment, moving from a warm sunny day to air-conditioned space, James relegated the Quartermaster’s voice to the background of his mind, instead focusing on taking everything in.  So far, nothing stood out.  There were a few other patrons perusing wines, and James began to do the same, getting his bearings but moving as if he belonged.

An older man stepped out from behind the counter, obviously an employee by his dress.  “May I help you, sir?” he asked with a winning smile beneath a caterpillar mustache.  

By nature, agents weren’t very trusting, and James in particular wasn’t very good at following directions - but right now, he did both: trusting in Q-branches information, James smiled his most benign smile and replied obediently, “Actually, I’ve been told that you have a house special.  A friend told me to ask about it.”

The older man had looked harmless until that moment, getting on in years; spry but slight.  Now, however, something flashed in his eyes that had James re-evaluating him.  It was only at that point that James began to truly take things seriously, realizing that this wasn’t some wild-goose chase.  If this employee was dangerous, then James was going to have to watch his step.

“May I ask your name, sir?” the worker asked, never blinking.

“Richard Sterling.”

“Well then, Mr. Sterling, let me just check and see if we have anything for you.  Sometimes my manager keeps something special in the back,” the older man said, going back to blinking like a harmless father-figure.  However, when he retreated behind the counter again to click at some keys to a remarkably new-looking computer, James was certain that he wasn’t checking the inventory so much as he was checking the guest-list.  Maintaining an unruffled mask became James’ focus, as he stood and waited, holding his breath like a fist-full of moths in his chest.

When the worker looked up from the screen, his smile looked more knowing than before.  “Ah, yes.  Mr. Sterling, I think we might have just what you’re looking for - but it’s not on display.  Will you follow me, please.  Lola?”  Another employee, a middle-aged woman who was showing a bottle of red to a young couple across the room, looked up.  “Watch the place for me?”

As soon as Lola nodded, the older man gestured for Bond to come behind the counter, leading him into the back room that contained an artfully hidden staircase - which answered James’s question.  How could such a visible, mundane-looking location support what sounded like a child-soldier-trafficking ring?  By going underground.  Literally.

~^~

Cherubic weapons.  Fresh-faced predators.  Harmless looking killers-in-training.  James hadn’t been this disturbed since he’d realized that he was about to assassinate someone for the first time.  

“At our facility we train our specimens young, since that makes them easier to mold.  Average age ranges from five to nineteen.”  

The older male employee had been replaced by a young woman with auburn hair, a well-crafted smile, and the kind of sharp clothes that you sold things in.  Now she was leading James through a lecture hall of young children, calling them specimens while over a dozen serious, youthful eyes watched a powerpoint slide about all the pressure points on a body.  

“Each of them lives here, and is given their own rooms,” the woman continued, pleasant yet professional.  She’d expressed surprise at first, at ‘Richard Sterling’s’ unexpected visit, but had warmed up to him quickly.  James was good at getting people to warm up to him.  They went from the underground lecture hall to a long hallway of rooms, the woman opening one to boast with obvious pride, “All rooms are equipped with basic necessities aside from a shower, which is a common room.  Installed in front of every room is an information plate, and a panel that controls the rooms temperature, water, etcetera.”

Eyeing the sparse accommodations - a small bed, everything neatly folded as if no one had ever touched the covers; the toilet fully visible next to the sink, providing no privacy once someone was in the room.  James was more than willing to bet that the reason the information plate and control panel were outside the room was because the children were routinely locked inside, their whole world controlled by whichever adult was in the hallway.

“Mr. Sterling?”

Recovering quickly from his musing, James turned his attention back to his guide, who was trying to look both attentive and well-informed - and, to a less discerning eye than James’, probably succeeding.  Past the expression, though, James could see from her eyes that she was still flustered, and perhaps a bit wary of this unexpected visitor to the House of the Havenots.  Falling back on the cover-story that Q-branch had fed through his earbud, James replied with a flawlessly winning smile, “Sounds like I can assemble a capable team from your ‘specimens,’ with all the profiles I’ve read so far.”  Each door had a little plaque, giving out details about age, skills, appearances, but no names - just room numbers.  

Clearly glad to see some interest from her client, the woman’s smile grew a bit more genuine.  “That’s excellent, Mr. Sterling. Many of them have good teamwork skills also.  If you’d follow me back to the office, I can show you a more thorough chart on this.”

“Certainly,” James replied, laying on the charm even as he felt frustration coil and uncoil like a restless snake in his gut.  So far, none of the plaques had quite fit the bill for MI6’s mystery hacker, and he hadn’t seen any pictures.  He was hopeful that ‘a more thorough chart’ would have pictures that he could match to the bespectacled hacker he was hunting.  

There was only one room left in the hall, but instead of continuing on so that James could peruse the name-tag, the woman just nodded and turned on her heel, ostensibly to backtrack.  James found himself curious despite himself, especially since he noted that the last room had a distinctly different security pad next to it - more high-tech, if he had to guess.  “There’s still one last room over there,” James found himself saying on a whim instead of moving.  He canted his head, asking curiously, “Any particular reason why we’re skipping it?”

The woman turned back, and if James wasn’t mistaken, something exasperated floated across her features.  Her eyes weren’t on James, though, but the last remaining door… which was definitely interesting.  In his ear, James heard the Quartermaster mutter, “007, what are you doing?”

James was listening to the woman, however, as she pursed her mulberry-colored lips and reluctantly answered, “Well…”  When her hesitant persisted, James fixed his attention back on her, shifting his body-language to appear interested yet nonthreatening, while also planting his feet to make it clear he wasn’t moving.  Hands in pockets, he knew that he looked expectant but still polite.  He also knew that his eyes expressed interest, and when the woman met his gaze, she blinked twice, rapidly, before capitulating, “We make a point not to showcase this specimen, you see.  He’s highly intelligent and well-versed in cyber security.”  Immediately, James’ interest was piqued, but he kept it in check even as he heard a little gasp through his ear-piece.  The woman went on, looking more openly displeased now, “But he’s also highly dangerous because of how volatile, manipulative, and frankly borderline psychopathic he can be.  He’s one of our oldest specimens, actually, but we can’t trust him enough to dispatch him very far, you see.”  When James’s expression of interest didn’t fade, the woman exhaled sharply through her nose, then seemed to come to a conclusion.  “Let me show you.”  She strode past James, saying warningly even as she typed in a passcode to the security system, “Every additional accommodation you see in his room is something that he’s bargained for, and coerced out of the staff.  Books, paper, crayons.”

Q-branch was back in James’ ear, sounding as eager as hounds on a scent.  “This could be our hacker, 007.  The image taken of him came from not far from your location, which would make sense if they don’t give him a long leash.”

James had figured out that much on his own, but while it rankled to have someone voicing the obvious in his head, he didn’t have the luxury of showing annoyance.  He was in his guide’s good graces, but only barely - and if this really was his target, he didn’t want to blow it now, just as the door was unlocking and she was pushing it open.  

“This is specimen QB-T1,” the woman announced as if she were opening the cage door to a prize rabbit rather than barging into the living space of a living person.  At that moment, however, all James could think was that T1 was a Scrabble reference, and he was almost so focused on not laughing that he missed his first look at Mr. QB.  The woman was giving some of QB-T1’s credentials and background (nineteen years old, acquired at age four, prodigy, highly trained at electronic forms of espionage) and Q-branch was responding energetically in James’s ear (“This has got to be him!  The hacker!  Thank god, you found the little bastard.  It was easier than I expected, if I’m being honest...”), but James’ attention was pulled into the room’s occupant.  007 had the eeriest sensation that if he’d looked up at the boy just a bit faster, he’d have seen another expression entirely on his face - now, though, James was met by one of the most benign smiles he’d ever encountered.

This was definitely the boy from the photos.  Grainy as that original image had been, there was no mistaking the key characteristics: the spectacles were absent, but there was still the same bone-structure, the fair skin contrasting with dark hair, and a wild mass of dark hair at that.  James rather wondered if it had a sentience all its own.  While James’ guide continued to describe the House of the Havenots’ oldest ‘specimen,’ QB-T1 just unfolded from his position on the bed, until he was sitting at an almost-too-perfect ninety-degree angle - back straight, feet planted on the floor, a professional posture.  James was trained to watch how a person held their weight and what they did with their hands, so he didn’t miss the way that long, elegant fingers folded atop the boy’s lap… it was a movement that James would have made it he was trying to appear harmless yet interested.  Interlaced fingers indicated that one wouldn’t fidget.  James looked up from QB-T1’s hands to find those eyes - a vibrant shade of hazel - still fixed on him, full of apparent interest and even playfulness.

And yet it all felt terribly wrong, combined with the fact that this was a locked room in an underground facility that trained weapons out of children.

 

“...So, as you can see, Mr. Sterling, this specimen is not what the House likes to showcase,” the woman was finishing.

James kept his focus on QB instead, speaking as if he hadn’t heard a word, and instantly both the woman and Q-branch fell quiet, “If I were to ask you to hack MI6, what would you say?”

The guide was sputtering just a bit, apparently not prepared for client-specimen interactions, but QB didn’t so much as flinch.  If he really was the hacker, he wasn’t showing it, and James didn’t know whether to be impressed or discouraged - because either he had the wrong teenager, or else he had a much more dangerous one than previously anticipated.  “I’d say that I have the prerequisite skills to bypass the firewalls of most any government organization,” QB-T1 answered without missing a beat, his voice a pleasant tenor, and surprisingly calm for someone who had just had his privacy invaded.  James could see a pad of paper next to the youth’s hip, and his first thought was that the crayon next to it had to be a frustratingly crude tool for such dexterous hands.  QB regained James’ wavering attention as he added with just a hint of champagne-dryness, “And I’d say that ‘hack’ is a terribly crude term for what I do.”

Now the guide was really scrambling to find something to say, but James was fighting a smile.  The earbud in his ear growled something about “bloody cheeky,” but James lifted a hand - pretending to be scratching behind his ear - and deftly removed the earpiece before he could hear anymore.  

Despite it being an oft-practiced, virtually invisible movement, 007 was entirely sure that he saw QB-T1’s alert eyes flick knowingly to the movement.  ‘You know that I’ve got an earpiece, don’t you?’ Bond suddenly wanted to ask, curiosity pricking at the back of his mind.  As James’ hand (and the earpiece) went into his trouser-pocket, QB’s eyes and James’ met, but once again there was only benign friendliness in the gaze.  The difference was, now James was… at least 75% sure that it was a mask.  A bloody good one.  

The guide had recovered, choosing to address James and say, “The House likes it best when we don’t know what our client’s business is.  You understand.”

“Of course,” James gave in gracefully, just to prove that he could play this game, too: if QB-T1 could pretend to be nice, James could lay it on pretty thick, himself.  Bond had always had a nasty competitive streak, and it was rearing its ugly head now as he turned his full attention to the woman next to him - being sure to blind her with a charming smile.  She seemed surprised, perhaps because she’d thought things were going downhill.  “Actually, I’m thinking that this specimen is exactly what I’ve been looking for.  

The woman blinked, clearly struggling not to ask, ‘Didn’t you hear me when I said he was a psychopath?’  Instead, she said, “He… is?”

“Yes.  It’s a brave new world, after all, and my current… business, as you called it… calls for someone skilled with computers.  I imagine you have other hackers, but I want the best,” James replied, tilting his head at the end and giving her a meaningful look from under his eyebrows.  He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and wondered with a spark of interest whether the tiny flicker had been QB rolling his eyes.  James was acting, though, so he didn’t have the luxury of turning to look.  

“I… there would be a lot of paperwork for you to fill out.  And we like to keep him close,” the woman continued.  It was hard to tell if she was trying to discourage him, or still getting over the fact that she’d made a sale with her ‘worst product.’  James had a particularly low opinion of human traffickers, so with every second that they kept talking, it became harder to keep the shark’s-tooth sharpness out of his grin, but he managed.

“That won’t be an issue.  And money isn’t either,” he assured, and knew that he’d won when the woman’s expression finally broke into a startled smile.  As he returned the look warmly, he began running scenarios in his head for how best to kill a teenaged hacker without attracting attention or leaving a trail.  Without a gun, it would be harder, but only slightly, and James’ mind ran different scenarios without hesitation.  Outwardly, nothing showed that he was mapping out the best place to hide a body.  

Deep down, James was answering his guide’s unspoken question: ‘Yes, I heard you.  But I’m a bit of a psychopath, too.

 

Chapter Text

MI6, definitely.  Q actually had to applaud their response time; if anything, Q had been expecting the Americans to reach him first, considering their usually rabid response to enemy attacks.  Or the Russians.  Q had been hedging his bets when he’d orchestrated a multi pronged attack on as many secret service organizations as he could dig his claws into, but he had to admit that he’d been hoping the Russians wouldn’t get to him first.  To his knowledge, they were the most likely to kill him on the spot, whereas he’d judged the British as the most likely to suss out the situation before deciding the fate of one hacker.  That being said, this agent seemed a bit rash… and oh god, Q hoped this wasn’t actually an American with a very good British accent…

Q had been living in the House since the age of five; he’d been their Golden Goose ever since the age of eight, when they’d truly begun to realize that they had a prodigy on their hands.  Q’s lanky body was a bit harder to train, but his mind had gobbled up everything they’d given him, to the point where he was metaphorically eating his teachers alive - now, by the age of nineteen, they’d ceased to teach QB-T1 anything computer related, as he’d reached the point where he was more qualified to teach.  Actually, once the House had begun to suspect Q’s interest in absconding from the place, they’d tried to quietly make him a teacher rather than a ‘specimen’ - unfortunately for the House, and for every Havenot that tried to learn from the resident tech-prodigy, Q had exactly zero interest in being a teacher.  He knew that this was just a charade, and that he was being grounded, and he didn’t like it.

So how had he responded?  

He’d played nice.  He’d made it clear that he wasn’t cut out to teach anyone (not without causing major psychological damage and/or tears, at least), but that he understood the need to behave out in the field.  He’d put to use the very same infiltration skills that the House had taught him, and had carefully filed down the rougher edges of his temperament - and those he couldn’t smooth out, he’d hidden.  At first, no one had believed him.  QB-T1 had developed a track-record for insubordination that couldn’t be instantly scrubbed out, but over the past year, he’d at least managed to fool a few.  To fool enough.  That was how he had so many ‘luxuries’ in his room, but also how he’d gotten access to computers for long enough to hack over half a dozen spy organizations around the world.  

Because even though Q could barely remember any life before the House - in fact, all he had was one memory, fuzzy and brief - he knew that a world existed beyond these walls and the intangible confines of his keepers.  And he wanted out.  

The fact that Q had been given street-clothes to replace his dark-blue, House-issue scrubs meant that the deal was going through; CIA or MI6, this Sterling fellow was at least competent enough to acquire his hacker target.  Considering all of the help Q had given (leaving a trail of breadcrumbs back into the House systems, creating back-doors into useful stockpiles of information, crippling as many firewalls as he could without setting off alarms), Q hoped that a spy would be able to get the job done.  Then again, Q had realized some years ago that the majority of the world was very stupid compared to him, so he’d learned to set the bar low.  He was disappointed less often that way.  

Upon hearing the locks disengage to his room, Q sat up straighter, replacing his thoughtfully irked expression with something more purposefully friendly.  It had taken ages of watching people to get the smile just right, and he honestly wished that he’d had more warning before his last meeting with Richard Sterling (or whatever his name was, because that most certainly wasn’t it) - if Q had been prepared, he’d have been curled up innocuously with a book, or coloring with those atrocious crayons (apparently pencils were too easy to weaponize), and wearing glasses instead of contact, to make himself appear as harmless and bookish as possible.  He’d even convinced his handlers to let him grow his hair out, ostensibly because it ‘helped him blend in’ but really because it made him look younger than nineteen.  It paid to be underestimated.  

Now, Q had switched out his contact for spectacles again, and was prepared to look the lamb as his new - and hopefully very temporary - owner came in.  

“-One more thing, Mr. Sterling,” Maria Sousa, one of the more canny employees of the House, said as she and the blond-haired man re-entered Q’s room, “and you’ll be ready to leave with your new acquisition.”

Q resisted the urge to glower and huff out a sigh as Sousa stepped forward, what looked like a thick watch in her hands.  If only it had been someone else other than Sousa on duty today…  She was one of the few that Q hadn’t quite managed to sweet-talk, and he hadn’t exactly appreciated the fact that she’d shared her more negative opinions on him.  The fact that they were accurate was immaterial.  Now, though, she was canny enough to remember that QB-T1 was a flight-risk, and there wasn’t a single thing that Q could do about it without getting himself put on lockdown.  

While Q clenched his teeth and tried to cement his smile into place, Sousa came up and took his left wrist and began buckling on the watch.  Q was pretty sure that, despite his best efforts, his eyes were transmitting pure murder, so he tried to keep his attention focused on the movements of Sousa’s quick hands as she latched a tracking device onto his wrist.  Q wanted to snarl that this was his dominant hand, dammit, but Sousa had to know that - just as well as she knew that he was at least passably ambidextrous.  

“May I ask the purpose of this accessory?” the blond-haired man at the door asked.  Q tried to listen for any hints of an American accent beneath it all, and thankfully couldn’t find any; he was probably actually dealing with a Brit.  

“I warned you, Mr. Sterling, that QB-T1 has been a bit of an issue in the past,” Sousa said candidly, and Q’s smile got harder and harder to hold.  The watch settled in place, snug as a second-skin.  “And he’s also a valuable asset, so this watch ensures that he doesn’t get away - either from us, or from you.”

“He’s really such a troublemaker?” the undercover agent said with a playful smirk, and Q had to give it to the man, he sounded incredibly disarming for someone who looked to be in his late twenties and dangerously fit.  Q saw right through the charm, of course, and was quite immune to flattery - but he had to respect that the blue-eyed agent had skills.  

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Sousa turned the flattery back on Mr. Sterling, her work with Q done and her attention shifting back to the handsome fellow behind her.  “You’re a new client, and we have to protect our investments.  QB-T1, no matter his flaws-”

Q rankled.  He wasn’t flawed.  At worst, he was a barracuda who’d outgrown the goldfish bowl, but not flawed.  His smile grew brittle enough that he substituted a neutral, disinterested expression instead, and noticed the way that sky-blue eyes flicked briefly his way.

“-Has fourteen years of our hard work in him, and we’d be poor businessmen and -women indeed if we took that lightly,” Sousa finished.  Despite the fact that she’d turned back to Sterling, Q could still see some of her expression, and for a moment something flickered across her face; he tried to identify it as her mouth quirked upwards and she finished, “I hope that I’ve impressed upon you just how much we value our specimens.”

“Oh, you impressed quite a lot upon me,” the agent answered lowly, and suddenly Q put two-and-two together and couldn’t keep the slightly scandalized look off his face.  He glanced between Sousa - who, for all that she was a pain in the arse, was like a dysfunctional mother-figure to him - and Sterling and repressed the urge to make gagging noises.  This was what MI6 had sent after him?!  Q was suddenly looking forward to stabbing the agent with a pen - not just to inevitably escape him, but to pay him back for the mental images he now couldn’t get out of his head.  Just like all of the Havenots, Q had been taught a bit about seduction, but it was all theory to him, because the House had quickly realized that Q was more skilled in other areas.  He wasn’t unaware of sex, but still… Maria Sousa…?

Q jumped as a touch to his arm brought him back to reality, and cursed the instinctive response.  He was trying to act amenable and friendly, after all, not jump like a wild hare when his own handler urged him to stand.  Recovering with all speed - trying to read the blue eyes on him, to see if the agent had noticed anything amiss - the youth stood, moulding his expression into a smile again.  “I’m all packed,” he said, making the decision to address his new buyer.  The more he won this man to his side, the better.  Considering how quickly Sterling had gotten into Sousa’s pants, the agent was probably heterosexual, limiting just how deeply Q could get into the man’s good graces - fortunately, Q only needed Sterling to get him out of here and across the border.  The House’s influence was strongest closer to home, so once out of the country, Q would be as good as free.  “I’m eager to learn more about this job you have for me.  I haven’t had a good challenge in ages, and am eager to be of service,” he finished brightly.

Of course, the challenge was the agent himself.  But Q was eager for that job, too.  

~^~

The House had been nice enough to have a car waiting, and James gave the driver directions to his hotel before settling down in the back again with his new acquisition.  While he’d been told that QB-T1 was nineteen, the boy sitting next to him looked more like a scrawny fifteen, and if that weren’t enough… he’d been named after a Scrabble term.  It had been all James could do not to laugh his arse off when he’d first realized it, and even now, he was having a hard time taking the dark-haired hacker seriously.

Still, the fact that this kid had apparently broken into MI6’s computers meant that he had to be taken seriously, and before James had removed his earbud, he’d gotten a pretty good idea that he was supposed to eliminate the threat.  QB-T1 was like a dog who’d gotten a taste for sheep: MI6 didn’t think that he’d ever go back to just plain kibble again, so therefore, he had to be put down.  James had to agree, really, because even if the boy to his left looked about as dangerous as a dust-bunny, there was glaring proof that he had the power to unsettle one of the world’s foremost spy organizations.  Fuck, this brat had even rattled M.

Which, now that James thought of it, was kind of worthy of respect.

“So, where are we going?” QB-T1’s voice cut through James’ pondering, urging the older man to turn blue eyes to the left.  Perfectly guileless hazel eyes stared back at him - so perfect, in fact, that James felt as if he could anticipate the disarming, measured blink that came a beat later.  The agent felt the urge to applaud, because this was a good mask.  It had probably worked on a lot of people, and even James wasn’t entirely sure what lurked underneath.  “I don’t know the city all that well,” the boffin finished with a shy, self-effacing smile.

James smiled back, perhaps letting a bit of his real expression slip past the mask - a bit of the wolf escaping the sheep’s clothing, because he was curious.  “Really?  I was under the assumption that you never left the city.”  The agent reclined back against the doorway, turning so that he was facing Q more, giving his full attention and presenting the hacker with open, interested body-language, even as he prodded him, “Surely you’ve seen a fair bit of it in over a decade of work.”

James watched for a hitch - a twitch of surprise - but instead, all he got was an elongated second in which not a single square millimeter of QB’s face or body moved.  It was less like watching someone freeze and more like watching a glitch in a video, everything pausing before moving forward again.  When Q did respond, his words were calm, and he leaned back subtly to mimic James’ posturing, “Oh, my job is far less active than you might think.  Really, the only sight-seeing I get is travelling to and from secluded little rooms where I tap away on computers for hours on end.  I have other skills, but the nature of most of my work is very sedentary and unexciting.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” James teased.

Something flashed in those bespectacled eyes.  The smile perhaps gained a sharper edge on the boy’s face, even if his voice remained smooth, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”  

It was like reading a cypher, and finding the decoding process a pleasant challenge despite the fact that James was familiar with the code - since he saw it every day in the mirror.  James was good enough to know a liar when he saw one, but he couldn’t yet say with certainty what the lie was or what truth it was covering for.  It was… an unexpectedly fun problem to be faced with, and the agent found his smile widening a bit.  As a reward of sorts, for this little game of secrets that they seemed to be playing, James answered QB’s first question, “We’re headed back to my hotel.  Then I’ll tell you everything.”  ‘And probably kill you.’  He tipped his chin subtly towards the driver in front of them, putting on a conspiratorial look and tone as he added in an undertone, “You can’t be too careful.”

As James watched, the expected expressions appeared, and they were quite well done, really: surprise at first, almost scandalized, fading into knowing understanding as eyes darted behind thick lenses to the driver and back to Bond.  “Probably wise,” QB said with just enough flattery that James preened despite suspecting that it was faked.  

Something caught James’ attention, at the corner of his eye, but he only spared the quickest glance out the back window.  Then his attention was back on the hacker.  “So, what do I call you?” the agent asked, cocking his head in what he knew to be a roguish fashion.

QB tipped his head forward in what he probably knew to be a coy fashion, a wave of mussed black hair falling forward against the rims of his glasses.  The glasses, James realized belatedly, were probably purposeful as well.  “Whatever you like, sir.  You’re paying, so I’m happy to oblige.”

The submissive politeness made James wish that this were real, but he was increasingly sure that all of this was just an impressive front.  As their car turned down another street, getting deeper into the city, he was also increasingly sure that someone was following them.  Both were very interesting factors, and wheels started turning in James’ head.  “That’s very gracious of you,” he played along in the meanwhile, maintaining a perfectly suave tone and matching QB-T1 smile-for-smile even as he decided, “I think I’ll call you ‘Rabbit,’ then.”

For the first time, that threw the boffin off-balance, and some of his mask cracked, leaving a tight-lipped frown in its place as Q half-echoed back, “Ra-?”  He recovered quickly, however, cutting off the question with a few rapid blinks.  James had startled him, but not for long, and the chink in QB’s armor was quickly sealed up again.  “If that’s what you wish, sir,” he said smoothly.  

“And you know what else I wish for right now?” James asked blithely, answering his own question even as he leaned forwards towards their driver, “A coffee. ¿Dónde podemos comprar café?”  

The driver looked surprised to be addressed, but was quick to oblige, a few more words exchanged as James made a request to take them to a coffee-shop that he’d spotted earlier in the city; the driver would continue on and drop off their bags at the hotel.  The place served decent hot beverages, but mostly, James liked the location.  It seemed that perhaps the hacker could sense his ulterior motives, because out of the corner of his eye, James could see the bespectacled young fellow watching him warily.  “The day is still young,” James explained in his most foppish tone as he settled back again, “and I think it might be more enjoyable to discuss our upcoming partnership over drinks.  I’m never against mixing business with a bit of pleasure.”  He let his smile speak for itself, amused to note that QB’s mask that slipped back into place, replacing the querying, cautious look with a friendly look of docility again.  James purposefully kept his eyes on his companion, resisting the urge to look out the back window; as he’d said, he’d already seen that the same car was still following them.  Since James had ended his last mission cleanly for once, he didn’t think that they were after him - but if this boy could hack MI6, then it was more than possible that the tail was after him.  Of course, there was more than one way to find out whom the target was.

Hence the detour.

If QB was suspicious of the change in plans, he was once again hiding it very well, smiling in what looked like abashed gratitude as he observed, “You’re taking pity on me, aren’t you?  After I told you that I don’t get out much.”

“Not at all.  I try to take all of my business partners out to drinks at least once,” James brushed it off.

“You really don’t have to.  Not in my case.”

“I insist.”

“If that’s what you wish, sir,” Q repeated, and again there was that slightly sharpened edge in QB’s voice, like a knife peeking out of its sheath.  James resisted the urge to grab for it, his training telling him that rushing things would only get him cut.  

“Well, here we are,” James said, as the driver artfully maneuvered them to a stop at their destination.  The traffic here was heavy, both vehicular and afoot, and James could see that Q was assessing that - perhaps knowing that it would be very hard for James to perpetrate any sort of violence in these conditions, with so many witnesses.  James opened his door and slipped out, leaning back in to tease, “Hop to it, Rabbit.  Adventure awaits.”

He saw the second in which QB-T1 considered murdering him.  It was a flash like a magnesium flare, hot behind hazel eyes before the hacker quickly snuffed it - and pasted on another angelic smile.  “So long as you're buying,” he said sweetly, in a tone that promised a very, very steep price.  Possibly in blood.  

~^~

Technically, Q’s initial plan had been to antagonize multiple secret organizations, wait until one took the bait and ‘kidnapped’ him (‘rescued,’ in Q’s mind) from the House, and then escape his kidnappers/rescuers as soon as they’d taken him to freedom.  Killing wasn’t necessary.

But it was starting to look very tempting.

Even disregarding that the agent had had the nerve to call him ‘Rabbit,’ it was becoming increasingly obvious that Mr. Sterling wasn’t pretending to be a catty bastard, he was a catty bastard.  No one could act the part that well.  No one.  Q had only known the man for a couple of hours, and he already wanted to strangle him.  Despite all of Q’s intentions to play nice and ingratiate himself to whatever idiot came for him, it was getting increasingly hard to keep a smile pasted on his face and to keep up the ingratiatingly submissive facade that he’d been carefully cultivating.

Q tried to focus on his plan.  Getting lost in his own feelings of annoyance wouldn’t get him anywhere, and this unexpected detour to the coffee-shop had the potential to be dangerous to him.  From the start, Q had known that this was a risky plan - what he’d done was essentially the same as pulling multiple tigers by the tail, and now he had to ensure he didn’t get eaten alive as a result.  This was why he’d originally planned to reach out to local authorities, but that was before he’d realized how deeply the House had its fingers sunk into police pockets.  Their reach wasn’t far, but close to home, it ran deep.  So, Q had needed to find rescuers who were not only powerful, but were not afraid of crossing country borders to get involved.  

The scheme had paid off: Q was 90% sure that he had an MI6 agent on his hands.  

Now, though, he was also about 75% sure that said agent was preparing to kill him and dump his body somewhere.  

This was the real gambit, and from the start, Q had known that he’d have to play it by ear, which  he hated.  For as far back as he could remember, Q had liked organization, order, plans.  He liked being able to predict and control every outcome, but now as he followed Sterling from the car to the coffee-shop, the best he could do was run multiple scenarios in his head, deciding what options presented the least risk: Did he wait and see what the agent had to say, hoping that words were on the menu rather than violence?  Or did he take a risk and speak up, showing some of his cards and using the element of surprise?  They were in a public place, at least, so that boded well.  At the same time, Q had no way of knowing whether or not the agent had been ordered to bring him in or assassinate him, and the boffin wasn’t exactly pleased by that uncertainty of purpose.  

While the younger man weighed the pros and cons of speaking up prematurely to try and tip those odds, he watched Sterling closely, reading his body language for the first signs of violence.  

Sterling seemed unconcerned, however.  He walked ahead of Q, parting the crowded space until they could smell the battlings aromas of teas and coffees and sun-warmed bodies.  Only once they were inside and seemingly headed towards the line-up at the counter did the agent look back, blue eyes checking to see if Q was following.  Assured that he was, the agent’s mouth quirked up at the side ever so slightly - and then he changed course.  

Suspiciousness immediately prickled up Q’s spine, and he narrowed his eyes.  For an instant, he stopped walking, too; the only thing that got his feet moving again was the knowledge that he needed this agent, because without him, Q wouldn’t make it out of the country.  The watch at Q’s wrist was actually a minor inconvenience compared to the drag-net that the House could summon if they caught wind that Q was on the run.  So, grudgingly and cautiously, Q called out, “Where are you going… sir?”  he tagged the title on at the end as an afterthought, his performance slipping a bit as his wariness took over.

Instead of answering, Sterling just called back over the general hubbub of the establishment, “Keep up, Rabbit.  Unless you want trouble.”

“Call me ‘Rabbit’ one more time, and we’ll see who has trouble,” the boffin muttered under his breath, but he nonetheless got his legs in motion again, outwardly obedient even as he watched Sterling’s every move for signs of trouble.  

Perhaps the agent’s words had been playful and light, but his destination definitely didn’t ease Q’s mind any - although he felt almost rather vindicated, because if Sterling was taking them to a back exit, then he most certainly had something heinous planned.  Well, he’d quickly find out that there were more to Q than geeky computer skills and glasses.  Adrenaline starting to hum in his veins, Q pretended ignorance and followed the blond-haired man out of the establishment and away from all the humanity and noise.

The exit opened onto a narrow alleyway that was surprisingly shadowed despite the omnipresent Buenos Aires’ sun today, the light blocked out by overhanging eaves.  But even as Q’s eyes struggled to adjust, the agent didn’t take advantage of the situation.  In fact, he was still walking away, as stoically as if he were alone and perfectly content.  Q scrambled to catch up with him.  He tried to feel out the situation by playing dumb, wanting to keep up his facade as long as possible, “Pardon me, but I thought we were going to get drinks and talk.”  He even pitched his voice up a tone, knowing that it made him sound vulnerable and even younger than he was.

When the blond-haired agent finally turned to him in response, Q tensed up and backed up a step.  ‘Here it comes,’ he thought, one glance at other man’s eyes telling him that this wasn’t Richard Sterling anymore, but the man beneath the mask.  The charming look had been replaced by the kind of flat, watchful gaze far more commonly seen in reptiles, efficient and cool.  “I was really hoping that we could handle this like civilized adults,” Q said even as he prepared for trouble.

“Considering that I’m hardly civilized, and you’re hardly an adult,” the agent replied, perhaps a bit of that charm coming back as his mouth shaped a slantwise smile, “I was thinking the opposite.”

Before Q could do more than scowl and open his mouth to say something about the ‘hardly and adult’ comment, the agent’s pale blue eyes suddenly flicked past Q, to the coffee-shop door behind him - and suddenly that door was slamming open.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Q barely had time to turn before two men were all but on top of him.  Shocked that he hadn’t considered the possibility that Sterling would come with backup, Q backpedaled, and only reflexes and luck kept him from being grabbed in the first three seconds.  Fortunately, three seconds was all it took for his House training to kick in, and suddenly it was the two new thugs’ turn to be surprised.  Q wasn’t big and he wasn’t muscular, but he was fit, and even if fighting wasn’t his specialty, he’d undergone a lot more hand-to-hand combat training than most people twice his age.  Relying on speed, Q ducked an arm that reached for him and snapped out a punch that went for the elbow joint, landing imperfectly but still with enough skill to have his attacker withdrawing with a swear.  Q, meanwhile, tried to keep the other man at bay - and tried to figure out where Sterling was, because he didn’t want a third foe at his back.

Imagine Q’s surprise when his first backward glance showed no sneak-attack coming.  In fact, it seemed as though Richard Sterling had just melted away.  

That was when Q began to suspect that these weren’t all MI6’s best.  In fact, as his two attackers swore and snarled at him a bit more, he began to doubt that they were British at all - their accents actually sounded American.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really matter where they were from or who sent them, because they were clearly trying to kill him, and Q was scrambling to counter.  

Given a choice, Q preferred hacking to fighting; he could destroy people from across the world from the comfort and safety of his room (or whatever room his latest buyer has him kept in).  Barring that, he preferred sniping, if he could find a gun with a silencer and minimal kick, because he didn’t like the percussive noise against his ear nor the percussive force against his shoulder.  Barring that, Q liked to fight in places where he had space - because even after he started growing like a weed, he was keenly aware that he’d never win a fight if it came to brute strengths.  That meant avoiding grappling if at all possible, and being aware of his surroundings so that he could attack precisely and fast and while also avoiding being grabbed by a stronger opponent.

Unfortunately, Sterling led him into a fucking narrow alleyway, and Q had already lost the ability to keep his distance.  

While Thug #1 nursed his elbow, the second one came in with enough momentum to slam Q into the wall.  The hacker just barely avoided biting his tongue as his teeth clacked together on impact, and for a second that felt like eons, he struggled to rebalance himself and focus.  He could feel his chances of victory diminishing rapidly - sand pouring from a broken hourglass - but he managed to break the hold on his shirt-collar and bring his knee up sharply.  He didn’t have time to feel proud of himself as the blow connected with vulnerable places, because then the second man was rushing at him, now with a combat knife drawn.  

Q would have honestly preferred it if these men had guns.  In a compact space like this, they’d be virtually useless, and at the very least, Q knew a thing or two about disarming someone and taking their weapon for his own - but knives were made for close quarters, and Q had a weakness: he valued his hands.  Therefore, the very thought of trying to block a knife and taking it away, had him feeling squeamish, and he hurriedly backed up when Thug #2 took a slice at him.  The House of the Havenots trained their children to be fearless, to be merciless, but sometimes Q found fearlessness and mercilessness to be incredibly stupid, especially when it could mean losing a finger and thus his ability to code like he preferred.  Q dodged another swipe at his face and lightly jumped over Thug #1, who was still curled up around his groin.  Before Q could make a break for it, however, Thug #1 managed to let go of his balls and instead grab one of the boffin’s ankles.  Cursing his own slowness, Q ended up falling on his arse, but immediately lashed out with his free foot.

“Hold the little punk still!” Thug #2 snarled.  Definitely American.  This was probably the CIA, and Q suddenly regretted bringing them into this.  With every secret service organization he’d hacked, Q had known that there’d be a risk of them shooting (or, in this case, stabbing) first and asking questions later, but he’d hoped that he’d be able to manipulate the situation to his advantage.  It had perhaps been a somewhat overzealous hope.  As Q’s heel connected squarely with Thug #2’s nose to the satisfying sound of cartilage grinding, Thug #1 bypassed his partner and dropped onto Q before the young hacker could get out of the way.  

Q knew that he wouldn’t be able to hold the knife away even before Thug #1 tried to drive it into him.  Focusing on twisting his body, Q redirected the blade just enough so that it slammed into the ground just shy of his ear - so close that he felt a sting of pain.  The fall had rattled his glasses, but by this point, his opponent was close enough that even Q’s nearsightedness had no trouble making out the details of a bearded face and angry brown eyes.  Q went for one of those eyes with his thumb, distracting the man long enough to get him to rear back and shout - then Q went for the knife.  The House trained its ‘specimens’ to find pressure points, and that was something Q had excelled at.  Now he went for the first weakpoint he could reach in his attackers hand, snatching up the blade almost before the meaty fingers around it went slack.  

Thug #1 was recovering above him, one eye bloodshot and red, but his entire expression filled with murder as the man snarled, “Why, you little bi-!”

Before the man could properly accept that he’d been disarmed, Q swung.  He didn’t have time to reverse the blade in his hands, but the heavy hilt was good enough - and when Q connected it with his first attacker’s temple, he felt the impact shudder up his arm.  It was somehow the most pleasant sensation that he could remember since he’d pressed the final key that had started this entire, mad escape plan.  

Eyes rolling back in his head, one of the CIA’s agents went limp, and Q barely managed to scramble out from under him as the man collapsed.  Neither of these agents were obese by any means, but Q was small and slender, and fighting way out of his weight-class - he could not afford to have a full-grown man drop on top of him, especially not when the agent’s partner was recovered and coming for him.

Thinking back, the second fight was a blur, all movement and instinct punctuated by bursts of frustration and pain as Q didn’t manage to move fast enough or was stymied by the confines of the alleyway.  By this point, his best course of action would have been to turn tail and run, but  Thug #2 was already too close for that, and no matter how Q tried, he just could not wriggle loose…!  Somewhere amidst the storm of movement and desperation, Q found himself latched onto his opponent’s back like an attacking starfish, his training finally paying off in the form of a perfect choke-hold.  Despite being bashed repeatedly against the alleyway wall, nearly getting repaid in kind for breaking this man’s nose, and shaking with adrenaline and strain, Q rode his would-be-killer right to the ground.  Having no idea whether the man was unconscious or dead, Q let go and stumbled away, panting and realizing with a bolt of belated terror that he hadn’t been stabbed - surely this agent had a knife like his comrade?  Whipping around, Q tried to remember if he’d knocked it away at some point…?

He caught sight of it a few meters off, resting under Richard Sterling’s boot.  The man had reappeared again like a particularly inconvenient spectre.

And Q, still gasping for breath and coming down from the high of nearly dying, spat at him viciously, “Did you plan to let them kill me, or was that whole set-up just an amusing coincidence for you?!”

Appearing untouched by either the ire or the evidence of violence all over the now-quiet alleyway, the blond-haired agent, arms folded, merely shrugged.  “A little bit of both.”

“Fine then,” Q snapped, having lost his patience for playing around somewhere in the midst of fighting for his life.  Straightening and trying to regain his dignity, he shed his previous facade of guileless friendliness and commanded in clipped tones that felt much more natural on his tongue, “You may as well put that ruddy earbud back in your ear and tell your handlers that, sadly, the CIA did not do your dirty work for them.”  He felt a bolt of pure glee as shock finally broke Sterling’s unconcerned mask.  It spurred Q on: “You can also tell them that they have a ticking time-bomb in their computer systems - which only I can defuse, so they might consider rescinding any kill-orders.”  That ‘ticking time-bomb’ part was a lie, but Q didn’t care.

The surprise had faded to a disgruntled expression on Sterling’s face, and that was fine - Q wasn’t happy either.  “I think you’re lying,” the agent said slowly, “I don’t think you could do that.”

He was, but that wasn’t the point.  Q tipped his head back and glared archly down his nose, saying with quiet venom, “Go ahead.  Underestimate me.”  He folded his arms and mimicked the agent’s belligerent posture unconsciously.  “That’ll be fun.”

The agent’s eyes had narrowed to shadowed blue slits, but when Q subtly searched the man’s face, he saw consideration there alongside the annoyance.  Q watched as the older man reached into his pocket and, just as Q had requested, plucked out an earbud that he then slid into his ear.  Gaze still on Q, Sterling nonetheless started to speak to another audience, “Did you get that?”

Tension that Q hadn’t known he’d been feeling began seeping out of his bones, but he was careful not to show it.  He was also careful not to relax entirely, although it was hard, because his body ached, and his slim frame wasn’t made for conserving energy - the fight had taken a lot out of him, despite it probably having lasted no more than ten minutes.  

Sterling didn’t say much, but his gaze grew a bit unfocused, and he made a few assensting noises, no doubt listening to orders.  By and large, Q only respected authority when it suited him, and he felt a mean sort of pleasure watching an MI6 agent being commanded by nothing more than a voice in his ear.  A more logical part of Q realized that he was being needlessly petty, but since Sterling had seen fit to needlessly pit Q against two probably-CIA agents (probably with the expectations that Q would lose), the boffin’s petty side won out.  Whenever Sterling glanced his way, Q made sure to meet his gaze with a calmly expectant look that he knew from experience to be infuriating without actually being rude in any namable way.  

For some reason, however, the agent’s mouth twitched upwards at the side in response, rather than down into a frown.  “Got it,” the agent said to his handlers, then removed the earpiece again.  Taking the little device out so often seemed inefficient, but Q didn’t comment.  “So,” the agent said, now talking fully to Q even as he hooked his thumbs in his pockets and rocked his weight idly, “it seems you impressed someone.”  The sardonic tone was matched by a half-smile, something Cheshire flashing in the agent’s eyes.  

For the sake of clarity, and because Q wasn’t keen on testing his mettle against another attacking spy, Q tipped his head to look at Sterling over his glasses, asking, “Meaning we can sit down and chat in a way that doesn’t involve attempted murder?”

The half-smile became fully-fledged, and the agent chuckled.  “I’ll do you one better - I’ll even buy you that drink I promised.”

~^~

Their first stop actually ended up being the bathroom of the very same coffee-shop they’d just gone through; the exit was near enough to the men’s room that James and his rather disheveled companion were able to slip in without attracting attention.  While QB-T1 leaned over the sink and tried to clean up any traces of his recent skirmishes, James leaned back against the door, ensuring that they had the space to themselves.  As he watched the boy’s quick, efficient movements by the sink, James’ thoughts kept drifting back to the two men they’d left very unconscious in the alleyway - definitely CIA.  Probably not the best assassins out there, but still quite a handful for a scarecrow like QB.  

“You’re staring at me,” the boy’s voice dragged Bond from his thoughts.

He conjured up an answer without trouble, sliding off his tongue like mercury, “I’m just thinking about how apt the nickname ‘Rabbit’ is.”  In the mirror, James could see how the hacker’s gaze turned absolutely murderous, which encouraged James to go on shamelessly, “You’re small, generally adorable-looking, but have a surprising amount of kick to you.”

“I’ve got a mean bite, too-” QB turned to snarl back, before he seemed to stumble on another part of that sentence.  In that moment he looked… precious; there was no other word for it… as his expression twisted into one of offended disbelief.  “I am not adorable,” he stated firmly.

“Suit yourself,” James shrugged, “Rabbit.”

The I-will-kill-you-slowly look was back.  Q had a scrape along one cheek, but the redness of it was being hidden by a more uniform flush that was easy to see on pale skin.  “My name,” he said with a surprising amount of steel in his voice, “is Q.”  Before James could find a way to tease him about that, the hacker changed tactics, voice turning silky in a way that instantly made Bond nervous, “It’s nice and short, so if you can’t remember it, then I’ll have no choice but to accept that you’re irredeemably stupid.”

It was a pretty low blow, but James had to admit, it was well executed.  Frowning now instead of grinning, James regarded his new companion for a moment more before deciding that it was best to just drop the subject.  One point for the adolescent soldier named after a Scrabble term.

Fortunately, QB-T1 - Q - seemed fine with changing topics as well.  He turned back to the mirror and prodded at his cheek before looking at his raw knuckles.  Fortunately, he was wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt, and a quick tug put the over-long sleeves down to cover the worst of the latter damage.  “So what do I call you then?  Because I’m sure your name isn’t Sterling,” Q asked next, in a clipped tone that made the British accent impossible to miss.  James was abruptly curious how it was that kid in South America had such a posh, British accent.  

That could be a conversation for later, though.  Instead he settled his weight more easily against the door and replied, “Bond.  James Bond.”

“And you’re MI6?”

Even though James was braced for the unexpected by now, it was still jarring to be called out on his place of employment.  It had been shocking enough to see that this scrawny little boffin could fight - having Q notice the earpiece and figure out that he was an agent was another thing entirely.  Truth be told, though, James wasn’t mad.  If anything he was… intrigued.  When Bond had said that Q had impressed someone, he hadn’t meant M or MI6.  He’d meant himself.  James had purposefully put the boffin into an impossible situation, fully expecting Q to either die or (if James was feeling generous) need rescuing.  Instead, James had seen that there was a wildcat beneath that facade of bookishness… and it had impressed him.  In fact, it had impressed him enough that right now he was ignoring orders.  Because in his brief talk with MI6, M had been very clear: “He knows too much.  The Quartermaster and his team assure me that they’ll deal with whatever this hacker might have left in our systems, so your orders are to carry out your mission and dispose of the threat in whatever way you deem fit.”

James had made all the right noises, made sure that Q didn’t hear a word of it, and had then said that he understood - which technically was true, but also wasn’t the same as agreeing to assassinate Q.  To be honest, ‘disposing of the threat in whatever way he deemed fit’ wasn’t exactly an unbending kill order either.  Either way, it left 007’s options open, and right now Q was quite frankly too interesting to get rid of.  James hadn’t been this entertained in months.

Ultimately, by letting those CIA agents get the drop on them (or, rather, just one Q), James had also gotten what he’d wanted: he’d seen Q with all of his masks ripped off.  There were probably other ways to find out who Q really was when he wasn’t pretending, but this had seemed the most expedient - and exciting - and James would’ve been lying to say he regretted any of it.

The kid had finished up and made himself presentable.  He still looked a bit rumpled, but he’d stopped panting and was once again carrying himself in a professional, calm manner that perhaps wasn’t all faked.  The redness on his cheekbone could be passed off as an irregular flush, at least until it bruised in earnest.     

“Are we going to get those drinks, or did you prefer we just stood in the loo and chatted?” Q said, tone as bone-dry as a desert.  

James suddenly wasn’t sure whether he missed the polite, fake version of Q or not.

~^~

They ended up back in the coffeeshop, James securing them a table after ordering them both coffee.  By the face that Q made when he sipped it, he wasn’t pleased.  James suddenly found himself curious, “Are you even old enough to drink coffee?”

That earned him a gimlet look past Q’s fringe of hair.  “Firstly, there’s no age restriction on hot, caffeinated beverages - and two, I’m not a child.”  He took another sip, more stubbornly, but still didn’t seem able to make himself like it and began looking around for the sugar.  “A child couldn’t have hacked into MI6’s servers and laid a trail of breadcrumbs back to the House of the Havenots.”

Doing a subtle but automatic sweep of the area to ensure that no one was listening in on them (the place had quieted down since they’d first entered, giving them more privacy), James narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and sifted through the information in that sentence alone.  Some of it he and MI6 knew, but some of it…  “You’re saying that you set this up like - what, a trap?  To lure MI6 back to your employers?”

“ ‘Trap’ has negative connotations,” the youth’s hand gave a little wave, dismissing the word as if it were somehow beneath him.  In contrast to Q’s demure, eager-to-please temperament from earlier, it was clear that really, Q had quite an ego on him.  Then again, so did James, so perhaps they were in good company.  Trying his coffee again (now with arguably more sugar than liquid), Q went on between slightly more pleased sips, “You see, I have a problem.  I’m eager to end my contract with the House - but unfortunately, that’s not how the House works, and they’re just as eager to keep me.”  The boffin raised his left arm, letting the sleeve slide back to the watch buckled very snugly around his wrist.  James recollected that it was actually a tracking device… which would undoubtedly cause trouble later, if James decided to bring Q back home with him.  When James just continued to eye Q expectantly, the boffin eventually sighed through his nose, rolled his eyes, and laid out more blatantly, “The House doesn’t know that I did this.  They know that I’m not exactly happy with them, but they don’t know that I caught the attention of MI6 in the hopes that you’d take me up on my offer.”

“Your offer?” James echoed suspiciously.

Q’s smile was small and polite, but it hid something sharkish behind it.  James was beginning to get the sense that Q was a lot of dangerous in a small, posh package.  “I’m offering to work for MI6.  Those same skills that I used to break into your systems can be yours, for the small price of you smuggling me out of the country,” he said pleasantly.

Pieces were starting to slot into place: the warnings that Sousa had given him back at the house, about how QB-T1 was rarely lent out; the way the kid had been ingratiatingly friendly, and almost eager to go with his new buyer; even the look of disgruntlement on Q’s face when the tracker had been strapped onto him.  Q wanted to defect.  Interesting.  

“Why MI6?” James asked, because he’d always been one to look a gift-horse in the mouth.  Sometimes he got bit, but it was better than being trampled later by something he didn’t see coming.

The answer came quickly, and almost too easily.  “My only memories of my childhood include the fact that I was British - I’m sure you noticed the accent.  I’ve maintained it, and what can I say?  I’m still a bit patriotic.”

James was pretty sure that he’d heard Sousa say that Q had been with the House of the Havenots since he was five, making it a bit hard to believe that he still had a soft spot for Queen and Country, but he let it go.  Lies were also informative answers, to a spy like James.  “What made you so certain that you wouldn’t just be killed?  Hacking MI6 is definitely an offense we can’t take lightly.”

“It was a gamble.  But I’m desperate.”  Q didn’t sound desperate; he sounded calm.  He’d stopped convincing himself that he liked coffee and was instead sitting with his arms folded on the table, looking serene, and meeting James’ eyes without flinching.

“Why desperate?”

“How could I not be?  I’ve been kept on a choke-chain tighter than any of the other child in the House, and for longer, too.  It’s just taken me this long to come up with an escape plan,” Q shrugged.  For all appearances, he was being amazingly transparent - which just made James more and more curious as to what Q was hiding.  It wasn’t necessarily that James thought these answers were lies, so much as James thought that truths could be very effective, flashy distractions - and if you didn’t ask the right questions, that was all that you’d see.  There was more to Q than the layers he was showing.  

The question was: Were the secrets Q was still hiding a danger to MI6?  Now that he’d seen how interesting Q was, James was loath to kill him, but he would if he had to.  James was a lot of things - reckless, unpredictable, impetuous, careless with his own life and sometimes the lives of others, too - but he was also loyal.  Right now, though…  Right now, his instincts were telling him that Q wasn’t out to get MI6, or Britain.  If Q had really wanted to destroy any of the things that James stood for, he’d had his chances earlier, when he’d been wading hip-deep through MI6’s computers.  Instead of wreaking havoc then, he’d laid out this extravagant plan.

“So you’re saying,” James felt his way forward as he talked, feeling like a cat in the dark with only whiskers to guide it, “that you want to get free of your current masters just to work for someone else?”

For a second, the skin around Q’s eyes tightened.  It wasn’t quite an expression, but it was a micro-reaction, and James was trained to see them.  There was information buried here.  Q feigned nonchalance very well, though, and replied wryly, “So long as MI6 doesn’t make a habit of leasing me out to the highest bidder, anything will be an improvement on my current situation.  Being able to pick my own clothes would also be nice.”  He indicated his bland attire, which was at least a step up from the uniform he and all the other kids at the House had worn.

“Hmm,” James accepted that as noncommittally as possible, nodding before speaking again.  “One last question then.”  Q grew attentive, looking more like the boy he’d first met, young and alone in a room like a trained bird in a pretty cage.  “What was the CIA after you for?”

Q, in a perfect show of mafflement, blinked exactly three times before turning his hands palm-up and saying in bewilderment, “I haven’t the faintest idea.  I thought they were after you.”

It was a complete and utter lie, but James decided not to call Q on it.

 

 

Chapter Text

~^~

They ended up walking back to the hotel, not because of any inability to get a ride, but because Q said that he needed to pick up some supplies if he was going to lose the tracking device.  “I’ve removed them before,” the boffin said simply as they wound their way from shop to shop until Q found one to his liking, eyes lighting up lasciviously before they’d even gone inside.  

James followed warily but gamely as they entered a claustrophobically packed shop of wires and metal and tech.  “And they haven’t upgraded?”

“They have, but I’m pretty sure I can still work around it,” Q replied distractedly but with the carefree tone of someone who was supremely assured of their own skills.  It made James want to at once roll his eyes and chuckle in amusement.  “I hope you have money on you, because the House never gives us any currency,” Q finished distractedly as he began to nose around like a dog after a scent.  

Q ended up buying an armload of seemingly random supplies, some of them identifiable (needle-nosed pliers were easily identified), some not.  James didn’t trust the youth in the slightest, but he bought everything anyway, deciding that it was worth a few risks to see what Q would do.  Worst case scenario, he’d metaphorically give Q enough rope to hang himself with, and MI6 would never know that 007 had played with his food before killing it.  From there, it was a short cab-ride to the hotel, and they hustled in as discreetly as possible because Q’s bruises were starting to get more livid and suspicious-looking.

Once back at the hotel, it was as if Q were vacillating between playing his role from earlier and just being himself.   Sometimes he was polite and professional - and sometimes he was dismissive and rude.  It was a bit like being cooped up with a Uni professor and a moody teenager all at once, and all in one body.  It was honestly baffling, and James quickly decided to just sit back and watch as unobtrusively as possible, a teensy bit relieved when Q’s attention quickly shifted away from him and instead towards the watch latched around his wrist.  Briefly, Bond considered asking if Q needed help, but then the more sadistic side of his nature kept him from speaking; it was more fun to just see how this would unfold.  If Q truly needed help, he could ask for it.  Plus, if the kid planned to double-cross him in some way, James didn’t want to be distracted.  

As it was, Q seemed to have dismissed his older companion entirely.  The hotel room only had one bed, but the bespectacled youth set up shop on it like it was all his, and all of his attention was directed almost immediately to his task.  James settled his elbow upon the nearby desk and his cheek against his palm, watching with growing amusement as Q rolled up his sleeves and was soon muttering to himself - or to the watch, which seemed to be confounding his best efforts.  

“Why don’t you just cut it off?” James asked after about ten minutes, unable to help himself.  He smiled back benignly as hazel eyes fixed him with a glare over glasses that had slipped down Q’s nose.  

While he looked tempted to tell 007 to go fuck himself, Q instead took a deep breath and then replied in a moderably patient and level voice, “Because, Agent Bond, that will turn off the signal entirely - which will most certainly let the House know that something is wrong.  They’ll come down on us like a load of bricks.”

Unperturbed by the answer - having expected it, actually - James’ smile broadened just a bit, and he asked the next logical question: “What about just cutting off your whole hand then?”

Now Q was glaring at him with enough intensity to start a fire.  As many had lamented, however, James Bond loved playing with fire, so his blue eyes merely twinkled wickedly in delight.  “You’re an arse,” Q labeled him succinctly, then turned pointedly back to his work, wordlessly dismissing Bond from his attention again.  A man with thinner skin would have been insulted, but James found he didn’t mind.  

As Q continued to struggle, however, working one-handed, the agent’s humor wore off, and he began looking at the situation more analytically.  He stopped lounging back in the desk-chair and sat forward instead, loosely meshing his fingers.  “You might be able to slip it off if you dislocate-” he started.

“No.”

The answer was surprisingly firm.  Q didn’t look up.

Regardless of MI6’s admittedly ambiguous kill-orders, 007 did want to take Q back to London, and to do that, he realized as much as Q did that the tracker had to go.  It was looking more and more like it would not go quietly, however, and James had enough empathy in him to regret the alternative.  Even James himself, who’d been forced to dislocate various joints in many escape attempts during his career, still didn’t enjoy the inevitable pain or the unsettling noise of things slipping out of socket.  If it was necessary, though, then it was necessary.  A bit more grim now, looking at Q’s slight frame and noting that it was more fragile than his, Bond got up and approached the bed.  The only sign that Q noticed him was the way his knobby shoulders tightened incrementally with every decrease in the distance between them.  

“Q,” Bond sat down on the edge of the bed, avoiding Q’s tools.

No,” was the sharp answer again.

Sighing and actually feeling a bit regretful, which he didn’t feel very often, the agent reached forward and circled Q’s left wrist, the one with the watch on it.  Too late, the youth tried to jerk his hand away, but by then Bond’s grip was inescapable.  Only now did Q look up, and while he was glowering again, there was a spark of desperation in his eyes - and something a lot like fear, which James couldn’t blame him for.  

James met that gaze without flinching, and this time without trying to manipulate the younger man with either charm or annoying humor.  The thin wrist tugged ineffectually against his hold again.  “I could dislocate it for you,” he said simply.  It was all the mercy he could offer, but he meant it.  

Teeth showed as the youth snarled.  Q’s other hand was inching towards a screwdriver, and James watched it without reacting, deciding that he’d deal with that if and when Q tried to stab him with it.  For now, though, they were still balanced on the precipice between words and violence, and Bond saw no reason to escallate unnecessarily.  He’d had his reasons for putting Q into a combat situation earlier, but right now a fight would serve no purpose except to create a lot of undue noises and probably unwarranted injuries.  

Perhaps it was because Bond was keeping so still that Q ended up speaking instead of trying to ram the screwdriver into the agent’s eye socket.  His words were clipped and wrapped around a snarl, “I need my hands, you bastard.”

“Dislocated joints are temporary.”

“On the surface, maybe,” Q spat back, “but do you know the strain that puts on the tendons?!  There’s a reason joints aren’t made to pop in and out willy-nilly!”

“What are your other options, Q?” James returned with some added volume in his voice, and with the sudden almost-roar that entered Bond’s tone, the youngster froze, blinking as if startled.  The room got quiet, and James just waited.  After a moment in which Q just pursed his lips and stubbornly said nothing, James leaned a bit closer over their hands - ignoring how Q leaned subtly away from him - and murmured flatly, “You can’t leave the city, much less the country, with this on.  And if you can’t get it off your way, then this is the next best option.”  He paused again when Q looked sharply away, clearly upset and angry but holding it together well.  The screwdriver was fisted tightly in his right hand by this point, but still hadn’t been raised offensively.  “Can you get it off?” James finally asked bluntly.  

Q seemed startled by the question, head swiveling just enough so that he was watching Bond out of the corner of one eye.  Perhaps after James’ pushiness thus far, Q had just assumed that he didn’t have a choice in the matter, but really, all 007 wanted was to force the issue - if Q really couldn’t get the job done, then Bond didn’t want them to waste any more time.  Overall, though, he wanted the truth, and sometimes it took a bit of aggressiveness to prompt sincerity.  

Like now.    

James was forcing Q to be transparent again, and he could veritably see all of the thoughts moving rapidly behind the dark-haired youth’s eyes as he tried to answer the question.  Perhaps under other circumstances, Q would have lied, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to work right now, and that clearly frustrated the boffin.  He ended up letting out a small noise of disgruntlement and getting out, “I can!  But…”  He grimaced but forced himself to finish, “But I need help.  They’ve… They’ve made it nearly impossible to disable without the use of two hands, and I can’t twist my left hand around enough to make it useful.”

The admission had deflated Q a bit, but James appreciated it... so he rewarded Q by letting go of his wrist.  The youth seemed surprised, eyes immediately snapping up to Bond’s face and searching his expression with clear suspicion and wariness.  With the threat now removed, Q also snatched his hand back, curling both limbs protectively across his middle, hands tucked against his sides.  

For a moment, Bond just sat back and waited, weathering the stroppy, mistrustful look, before pressing, “You said you needed help.  Tell me what you need.”

“Your big, clumsy paws will probably mess it all up,” Q grumbled, but he also seemed to give himself a mental shake and refocus himself on this new plan.  He stopped glaring at Bond and instead started taking stock of his tools.  Ultimately, he ended up looking at the screwdriver still in his right hand, and with obvious reluctance he handed it over.  “Apply pressure with this when and where I tell you to,” he ordered primly.

And James, who really wasn’t entirely against following orders when said orders were easy and sensible and spoken by someone who seemed to have some idea of what he was doing, merely nodded and obliged.  “Whatever you say, Rabbit.”

“I just might fucking hate you.”

~^~

Between the two of them, they got the tracker off.  So far as Q was concerned, this MI6 agent was an arse… but when Bond wasn’t being threatening, he was at least a helpful arse.  He did what Q told him to, and while they ended up bickering a few times when James didn’t follow instructions (“Your instructions are what’s at fault, Q, not me.  I’m doing what you told me to do.”  “Bullshit.  I did not tell you to hold it like that.”  “You are atrociously ungrateful for my help.”  “You’re just atrocious help.”), ultimately the task began to see positive results.  In under fifteen minutes, the catch of the watch’s strap unlocked, its tight seal around Q’s wrist giving way.  Q sighed and sagged, and stubbornly refused to look at Bond’s face, because he was sure the man would be looking at him with some smug expression or other.

In retrospect, Q saw the previous threats for the manipulative tactics that they were, but he took it philosophically.  He could see the cunning behind the agent’s actions.  James was… practical, in his own mad way.  Q could almost understand the logic in that.  Besides, he reminded himself, he could always drain the man’s bank accounts and destroy his credit score after Bond got them both back to London - and after Q made his escape after that.  

As James booked their flight, Q stretched out on the bed and not for the first time pondered making this escape alone.  It was definitely still tempting to stab the agent with a screwdriver, and now that the tracker wasn’t attached to Q’s wrist, he was essentially invisible to the House of the Havenots’ many eyes.  Glancing over at the blond-haired man, though, who paced with slow but easy grace across the room as he talked, Q shook off the idea.  Escaping with help was easier.  Q technically had no money, and while he could acquire it quite easily (when one drained a bank account, it all had to go somewhere, right?), the task would take time - and stunts like that tended to catch the attention of the House.  No; no matter how annoying Bond was, the man made this all faster and easier, and it lowered the chances of failure.  Q was practical like that.  

James ended the call, and it was easy to hear the way his voice changed when he wasn’t charming someone on the other line.  Oh, the man was still charming, but with just Q in the room, he seemed less inclined to also act benign.  Even the way he tossed his mobile into his small, open suitcase showed an easy rolling of muscle that was anything but harmless.  “I figured you’d want to get out of the country quickly, so we’ve got a flight in three hours.  Any stops you want to make before then?” he said, blue eyes pointedly not curious, but at the same time watching Q too intently to be anything but.  Despite himself, Q was a bit intrigued by the many layers behind those piercing blue eyes.  

Purposefully folding his arms behind his head, a picture of self-assured indolence to make up for his helplessness of earlier, Q replied, “None.  The sooner I’m heading back home, the better.”

James caught the specific word-choice.  “You’ve really got quite an attachment to a place you haven’t seen in over a decade,” he observed offhandedly even as he began to pack his own things - a task that wouldn’t take long, because apparently James was the type to pack light.  Besides a few clothes and… a rather disturbing number of knives, which Q was curious to see pass through security… the man had virtually nothing with him.  Pointedly, Q had noticed no other weapons, despite the fact that the agent had a shoulder-holster.  Curious.  

“Photographic memory,” Q decided to give out the information as an excuse.  Bond immediately turned to him, brows beetled and eyes clearly looking for a lie - but the joke was on James, because Q was totally telling the truth this time.  

Narrowing his eyes a bit more as he took in Q’s placid but open expression, the agent eventually made a noncommittal grunting noise and finished up his packing without ceremony.  “In that case, we’d better get moving,” the man said, “because while you apparently have a photographic memory, I have a paranoid one, and I’ve smuggled people out of countries before.”

“Meaning…?”

“Meaning,” James hefted his bag, “we need to visit a contact of mine to get you a fake I.D. before yours gets flagged in the airport.”

~^~

It was really quite fascinating to watch Q transition from a private to a public situation, in which he ceased to be stroppy with James and proceeded to be polite and friendly with the world at large.  James wondered if he himself went through similar transformations.  He was still on the fence about which side of Q he liked: the fake but docile and benign side, or the more authentically snarky, xyresic side.  The former was easy to handle, but since when had James been drawn to things that were easy to handle?  He was already secretly looking forward to the next time he could annoy Q, just to see the claws beneath all the cute fluff Q was showing the world right now.

Q made friends with James’ forger, then with the cab-driver, and then even with airport security - the last being completely unnecessary, because MI6 had pulled strings to allow one of her agents to slip out unmolested.  James still checked his bag, though, because even an MI6 waiver didn’t exactly excuse the sheer amount of edged weaponry he liked to keep on him.  Besides, he still had a ceramic blade hidden in his belt-buckle, invisible to the scanners and useful in a pinch.  Q’s I.D. passed muster without a second glance, and everyone took one look at the skinny, bespectacled, fluffy-headed youth and categorized him as ‘utterly unthreatening.’  James itched to tell them how close that ‘utterly unthreatening’ little gamin had been to stabbing someone with a screwdriver.  

Q’s tools (especially the screwdriver) had been left behind, much to Q’s disgruntlement.  

Their timing was such that they only had a short wait at the gate.  James spent that time stretched out in the cramped seating while Q looked at him with a face that said he had no idea how in the world Bond could make himself comfortable in these chairs.  ‘When you’ve been in as many airports as I have, you get used to it,’ James wanted to tell him, but held his tongue instead, trying to doze.  At this point, he wasn’t too worried about ‘QB-T1’ running off.  Or impaling him with a sharp instrument.  

Somewhere in the back of his head, James wondered how long it had been since Q was on a plane of any sort.  It had sounded like the House of the Havenots had kept a pretty short leash on their pet prodigy, and for quite a long time now.  Q did seem a bit fidgety, perhaps eager or nervous about a novel experience.  

~^~

Everything was data.  Not just numbers and experimental results, but people’s choices, actions, and every little observable quirk in Q’s world.  He preferred to work with computers, but he also liked to think that by watching and ‘collecting data’ on people, he was able to understand and predict them better. But with James he was flummoxed.  How the hell could the man sit in these god-awful chairs and drop instantly to sleep?  Q was pretty sure that it was a shallow sleep, but still, it defied logic.  

Q sat and directed his perturbed glare at Bond’s relaxed countenance and stubbornly ignored the anxiety rising like an itch inside of his chest.  

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been on a plane, which in and of itself was disturbing - because, after all, his memory was photographic.  He should have remembered.  True, the House had been keeping Q close to home for a very long time now, but he hadn’t always been the proverbial Golden Goose, so surely he’d been flown out to some customer or other?  Yet Q couldn’t bring up anything more than the fuzzy surety that he had been on a plane.

Maybe it really had been awhile.

That still didn’t explain the tension increasingly gripping his limbs, or the way that he jumped and actually yelped as their flight was called on the intercoms, declaring that boarding had begun.  As Q fought to relax again, he turned back to find blue eyes open and watching him, intense but otherwise unreadable.  Q had the sudden urge to flip him off, but told himself that that would be childish.

He did it anyway.  

They didn’t get time to antagonize each other any further, because apparently James had booked them first-class.  Logically, Q knew that that should have improved his mood, but instead he found his shoulders tightening up with every step closer to the gate they got.  He handed over his boarding pass and passport mechanically to be checked, and dimly aware of James doing the same behind him, although he didn’t realize that he’d stopped walking until he felt the man’s hand between his shoulder-blades, urging him gently forwards.  His legs jerked into motion again, but as soon as he entered the long tunnel out to the plane, he was acutely aware of how unsteady it felt.  “Surely there are better ways to board a plane?” he muttered to himself, glaring at the floor and trying to hide the way he kept expecting it to break open at the seams somehow.  James had to push him again, which made Q bristle, because he wasn’t some sort of malfunctioning railroad car to be nudged along-!

“I didn’t say you were,” the agent maintained patiently.  

Q flushed, almost more disturbed that he’d said that out loud than by the fact that he couldn’t find a logical source for his own growing stress.  Embarrassed, he allowed himself to be nudged into motion one more time, realizing that people were starting to crowd up behind them.  Q wished they’d just go around and stop rushing him, this wasn’t a race…  

When Q got to the entrance to the plane itself, and saw where the tunnel connected to the side of the plane with enough gap for him to see through, he balked so hard that his back hit Bond’s chest.  Q hadn’t even told himself to back up.  The roar of the plane was distractingly loud, and the final step up into the plane suddenly looked like a chasm.  

Hands gripped his upper arms just below the shoulders, and Q startled before realizing it was just the agent behind him.  When Q turned to… he wasn’t sure what, maybe say something?... Bond propelled him forward, and Q more or less stumbled into the plane, where the flight attendant was favoring him with a rather worried look.  “I’m fine!” Q felt the need to tell her, but his voice felt thin and reedy even to him.  Thankfully, James saved him from further embarrassment by boarding swiftly behind him, and continuing to chivvy him deeper into the plane.  

Q didn’t have any memories to really compare to, but he didn’t think that first class seemed particularly spacious.  In fact, once he sat down near the window and James took the remaining seat next to him, he felt like a hamster in a shoebox, and immediately felt his blood pressure rising.  He couldn’t help shifting around, half-standing occasionally, because he felt like he had to remind himself that there was indeed enough room on the plane for him and everyone else and all of the air and space they needed to move and breathe-

James had said something.

“What?” Q, who was standing again as much as he could, his head brushing the annoying little air vent, jerked his attention down to the other man.  James looked annoyingly calm, as if he were completely oblivious to the fact that they were being stuffed into a winged can like sardines.

“I said, do you want to switch seats?” the man repeated slowly and patiently.  The tone made Q narrow his eyes, suspicious, because his entire experience with the agent thus far said that James Bond was not a person who did anything slowly or patiently.

But the aisle seat did look more open…  

Q didn’t recall answering, but a few minutes later and they’d switched seats, and it was marginally better.  Marginally.  Soon the anxiety started building up again, though, and this time Q couldn’t see any reprieve.  Incrasingly, this seemed like a monumentally silly idea, and he found himself rethinking all of his escape plans - even to the point where he started to look back on his room at the House as spacious.  “That’s is. Nevermind,” Q said fervently, wrestling out of the seat-belt that the flight attendant had coerced everyone into like a bunch of lemmings being herded towards a cliff.  His mouth kept running as he moved, even though he suddenly could barely hear himself over the roar of the cabin pressurizing, “This was a stupid idea, and I really should have thought of everything in advance and planned this for a little longer, and-”  He got to his feet and ignored the way the people around him were looking alarmed, because so what if they were alarmed?  He was fucking panicked-!

James-that-bastard-Bond caught his wrist, yanking Q back down again.  Q felt his panic ratchet up at least three notches, and by now, he wasn’t sure whether he was hearing the plane’s engines or his own blood roaring in his ears.  “Let me go!” he yelped, twisting and clawing at Bond’s hand without thinking.  He kept snarling, “There’s no air in here!  Let me go!”

“Miss!” James was calling over Q’s head for some reason, but all Q really cared about was that MI6 agents apparently had high pain tolerances and strong grips.  While Q continued to scratch at Bond’s hand and wrist - right up until Bond grabbed his other wrist, turning Q’s anger and panic into a sizzling sort of fright - the agent said something else over Q’s head, even as there was suddenly the feeling of gravity sucking Q down into his seat.  They were taking off.

Without any conscious decision on his part, barely understanding what his body was doing, Q suddenly went from fighting for escape to curling forward into Bond’s body and sobbing out little cries of fear against his chest.  The armrest between them dug into his thighs as he tried to curl them in, and he couldn’t hear anything but the roar of the engines like a deafening storm.  It was like all he could feel was the vibrations of the plane tearing itself apart all around him, and he couldn’t breathe, but at least the feeling of a living body was a sign that everything was all right, even as Q’s brain screamed that it wasn’t-!

Or maybe Q’s mouth was the one doing the screaming?

He couldn’t stop shaking, and he wanted to tense up tighter - into a safe little ball - but if he did that, he was sure his bones would break.  He had his hands fisted so hard now in the front of Bond’s shirt that he could feel the heat of the man’s body against his knuckles, and some small part of his mind said that he would bend his glasses if he kept his face pressed against the man’s chest like that - but the majority of him shrieked that his glasses could go to hell.  The rest of him was already there.

“Q.  Q!”  The low voice shouting his name didn’t really do much to snap Q out of the fear he was feeling.  It was like someone tossing a toothpick to a drowning victim and asking them to float on it.  The boffin did lift his head for a second, however, and in that moment he was startled by Bond’s hand sharply grabbing the point of his chin and pinning his head back against the headrest.  He yelped, but then he had a mouthful of something, and his instincts were working well enough for him to realize that he could either choke or swallow - so he swallowed.  And then choked, because the alcohol burned all the way down.  The House of the Havenots didn’t exactly encourage drinking, even after their tenants were of age (most died before then anyway), so Q had no head for alcohol, and immediately felt the kick of it through his system.  Somehow, Bond coaxed another few mouthfuls into him, taking advantage of Q’s surprise.  Q’s perception of time did a funny thing then, in that the next thing he was aware of, he felt dizzy and heavy and couldn’t keep a thought in his head for long enough to worry about it.  There was a flight attendant standing next to him, holding a half-empty bottle of something and looking worried, and the hand on his chin had loosened so that it was merely cupping his jaw.  A thumb stroked his cheek periodically.

Said hand moved Q’s head, and the world swam as it was tilted in Bond’s direction, making Q close his eyes and grimace.  “Q?”  His name felt like it came from far away.  

After a beat in which Q didn’t feel like opening his eyes (but maybe let out a little giggle because the world spun even in darkness), the voice - Bond, familiar and low but somehow less annoying now - went on, “Another glass, I think.  Just in case.”

“You’re getting me drunk,” Q accused, even as he felt cold glass nudging against his lips again.  

“Well, seeing as no one could produce Xanax fast enough, it seemed the best option,” James returned, and that answer was good enough for Q at the moment.  There was a determined pressure at the back of his jaw now, squeezing and encouraging him to open up, and he saw no reason why not to.

He parted his lips, savoring the bite of alcohol as it swept past his tongue and down his throat, comfortably muffling his entire world in a sweet, stupefying warmth.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I think he’ll be all right now,” James smiled reassuringly at the flight attendant, who relaxed visibly and then turned away to belatedly reassure nearby passengers.  James, meanwhile, turned his whole attention back to Q, who suddenly seemed a lot more fragile than the young man who’d looked ready to defend himself with just a screwdriver earlier today.  The boffin was limp now, alcohol having dragged him down into a calm doze, whiskey a sharp scent on his breath as he sighed against James’ shoulder.  The 00-agent managed to push away the armrest between them, and when Q sagged more fully against him, James wrapped an arm around the youth’s shoulders.  Q felt skinny and breakable.  

007 was not burdened with an overabundance of pity, a psychological make-up that made him a terrifyingly efficient agent.  He was not without sympathy, however, and to be honest, Q’s sudden panic attack had scared him.  As an assassin-spy, James was used to being the source of fear - and being that source also meant that he controlled that fear; when it began, when it ended, when it peaked and when it ebbed.  It was the kind of power that could really go to a man’s head, James would be the first to admit, but it also made him acutely aware of when he had no such control.  Such as just now.  Q - calm, collected, and freakishly self-controlled Q - had worked himself up into a pinnacle of terror so fast that James could barely believe it, and James had had virtually no way of settling him down.  He didn’t even give himself credit for thinking of alcohol, because he was pretty sure that it was only a thin veneer over the fear, not a solution.  He’d asked to keep a glass on hand because if Q showed the slightest signs of sobering up, he’d have to essentially drug him again.  Fortunately, it was clear that Q was a lightweight, and a little bit went a long way.  If Q didn’t end up drinking it, James certainly would, because he felt like he needed it now, too.

Q murmured something senseless, words a slurred mess barely audible over the drone of the plane’s engines.  He still had one hand on Bond’s shirt, his fingers having slipped through the buttons.  The backs of Q’s knuckles were gently kissing the skin of Bond’s chest beneath.  Regaining his own composure and aloofness, James analyzed the angle of Q’s slim hand, and then disengaged the fingers.  

But then he kept them gripped in his, and settled in to endure the rest of the flight with Q’s hand in his.  He thought the word ‘endure,’ but in reality, he didn’t find it entirely uncomfortable to have MI6’s hacker curled into him like a bird into its own wing.  

~^~

“You could have told me that you had a phobia of flying.”

“If I’d known, I would have told you,” Q sniped back, once again sitting in uncomfortable airport seating and thanking every god he’d ever heard of that he was no longer in the air.  He rubbed at his temple, wondering whether he was hungover or still drunk.  The way his head throbbed spoke of the former, but the rest of his body ached, too, making him suspect that the pain could also be attributed to the panic attack he’d so unexpectedly had on the plane.  Or, perhaps not so unexpectedly: in retrospect, going through his memories, he wondered if he’d deliberately buried his recollection of previous flights.  Either way, he definitely remembered this experience, and was determined to never get on a plane again.  He wanted to stand up and pace off the last, lingering adrenaline in his limbs, but the second he tried it, the entire world swayed.  James appeared at his elbow like magic, catching him with those same strong hands that had restrained him on the plane.  

The agent coaxed him back down into the seat again, and then pushed Q’s head down between his knees when he apparently started to look a bit green.  “Easy there, Q, you’re already back on British soil, so there’s no rush to go anywhere,” James said in a calming voice that the younger man was frankly surprised he had.  As much as he wanted to snarl that he was fine and didn’t need to be babied, though, Q did feel a bit as though he was going to puke, and something about the hand still resting on the nape of his neck was easing the last of his anxiety.  They just sat there a moment, side by side in uncomfortable chairs, Q focusing on his breathing and James staring out across the baggage claim area, perpetually scanning his surroundings as he’d probably been trained to.  After a beat or two, he started gently kneading the back of Q’s neck without seeming to realize it, calloused fingertips pressing against knobby vertebrae and knotted muscles.  It was only as an afterthought that Q recalled that he’d been in a fight earlier today, and that probably had him aching and stiff, too.  Damn Bond.  Despite all of that, Q found himself actually relaxing into the touch, which led him to deduce, “I think I’m still drunk.”

“I’d imagine so.  If you weren’t, I’d be jealous of your recovery time.”  

All the while, Bond’s hand kept up its movements, and Q realized dimly that the strength in each squeeze should have scared him a little.  It wasn’t hurting him, but the potential was definitely there.  Instead, Q just continued to sit with his head hanging over his knees, and mumbled, “You’re lucky I didn’t vomit on you.  You’re lucky I still haven’t.”

“A fact I’m very grateful for.”

“Stop being so fucking serene about all of this.”

“Someone has to be.”

Okay, perhaps James had a point - and this man was an MI6 agent, after all.  This probably ranked pretty low on the list of things that got him excited.  Q subsided again, closing his eyes and trying to focus on the nice, floaty part about being inebriated instead of the nasty aching in his whole body.  It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that he’d actually managed to escape South America, and the House of the Havenots, his place of residence and masters for over a decade.  It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that he was now home.

Then again, did Q really know what home was?

“So now what?” he asked, to distract himself from that other question burrowing under his skin.  He braced himself and sat up, and was distractedly pleased that Bond’s hand fell away naturally.  They were once again merely sitting side-by-side, watching as the last of the other passengers found their bags and hurried away.  

James linked his hands across his trim stomach and replied lightly, “I imagine I shuttle you straight off to MI6.”

Q grimaced, forced to think about his plans.  His brain was still swirling around inside his skull, and he had to think for a moment about whether he actually wanted to be taken to MI6, or if that would ruin things.  Ultimately, it was a moot point: sober, he could perhaps have evaded Bond, but like this?  Even Q knew he didn’t stand a chance.  It was galling, but as he accepted that fact, he also felt a sort of calmness settle over him that came from having the decision taken out of his hands.  There was nothing for it; he’d just have to make do.  He did feel the need to point out, however, as he pushed his fingers beneath his glasses to rub at his eyes, “This is going to make a great first impression, me smelling like an alcoholic and all.”

He thought he heard a chuckle, but at least Bond had the decency to keep it muted.  “At least you’re not slurring.  It would be a pity if you introduced yourself and couldn’t even get a single letter of the alphabet to come out of your mouth in a coherent fashion.”

“Go fuck yourself, Bond.”

“Please, call me James if you’re going to use bedroom-talk,” the man replied blithely, and it was another sign of how drunk Q was that he found himself snorting in amusement instead of getting angry like he should have.  This agent was incorrigible.

Q dropped his hands, sighing and staring forward until he was sure that the dizziness was all in his head - the world itself was, indeed, as stable as always.  “Well, then I suppose there’s no use putting off the inevitable,” he said briskly, half to himself, even as he was aware of blue eyes on him, “Time to find out whether I can walk in a straight line.”

~^~

He could, at it turned out.  So long as he moved very, very carefully, and put a lot of thought into it.  The most embarrassing part was that he couldn’t tell whether he wanted to giggle at himself or swear whenever he swayed or got his legs tangled.  The worst part was actually getting to his feet, which he attempted to do too quickly, saved from a nasty fall only by Bond’s quick reflexes and strong grip.  Q’s stomach did a terrible lurching sort of thing, and he nearly vomited right then and there, but somehow managed to keep it together until he found his equilibrium.  Bond’s hand remained on his arm, supporting Q and leading them both to the nearest fountain.  Q wanted to protest about just how many mouths had been on that thing, but ultimately gave up, realizing that he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in entirely too long - he wasn’t counting the alcohol James had forced into him.  Water made him feel marginally better, and he needed less steadying by the time he straightened.  A pounding had definitely started up between his temples, though, and the younger man leaned against the nearest wall to rub at either side of his head and grimace.  “God, is this what being hungover feels like?” he couldn’t keep the complaint in, his tongue still feeling entirely too sentient, “I hate it.”

“Never been hungover before?”  James sounded amused.  He came forward and took Q’s arm again, but this time Q shook him off fussily, not wanting to be seen as anything but fiercely independent.  

He nonetheless admitted, “No,” in a tone that dared Bond to press further.  That - or perhaps the accompanying glare - had the blond-haired agent raising both hands in a defeated gesture, before the two of them headed back to the baggage-claim area.  Bond’s checked bag was the only metaphorical duck in the pond by this point, and he dug a jacket out of it almost as soon as he collected it.

Speculative blue eyes turned to Q, brows lowering and mouth tipping down.  “You’re going to freeze,” the agent said candidly.

Q, who had been standing and trying to gouge his temples out with his fingertips, lifted his eyes to Bond bemusedly for a second before his brain caught on.  It was oddly devastating to look down at himself, and his relatively thin attire, and realize that he’d live in a warm climate for so long that he hadn’t even considered that it was winter right now in Britain.  He found himself saying without consciously giving his mouth permission to move, words a stunned, quiet mumble, “They let me out so rarely that if it ever did snow in Buenos Aires, I wouldn’t have seen it.”  He didn’t know why that left him feeling so desolate, especially since he knew that there really hadn’t been anything to miss - Buenos Aires wasn’t exactly known for chilly weather.  Still, if there had been snow…

“Q.”  Bond’s voice drew Q out of his thoughts, where he’d sunken without realizing.  Looking up, Q found himself looking into blue eyes that looked unaccountably sad, and unexpectedly understanding.  Considering that this was the same man who’d fed Q up on a platter to CIA agents and had coldly threatened to dislocate Q’s thumb, it was basically impossible to compute this change, and Q’s inebriated brain just wasn’t up to the task.  Thankfully, James didn’t say anything else - no words of pity, no gooey efforts at compassion.  Instead, the older man simply let out a loud sigh and then dug in his bag again.  A black turtleneck was tossed Q’s way.  “Don’t freeze.  I’ll be in enough trouble as it is without you freezing to death en route.”

Maybe if Q’s brain had  been working a bit faster, he’d have been curious at the way Bond was talking about getting into trouble…

Instead, Q was distracted by the third thing Bond pulled out of his bag, which for the moment erased all sins: a bottle of painkillers.  Prescription strength.  Maybe keeping company with an MI6 agent had a perk or two…

Still feeling like his thought-process was bogged down while his tongue was simultaneously loosened (not the best combo, but Q couldn’t presently find it in him to worry about it), Q followed Bond as the blond-haired man led them out of the airport.  The sweater was baggy but warm, and smelled not unpleasantly of detergent.  Q mostly focused on coordinating his limbs, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting James not to lead them into the path of one of those airport transports.  Watching his feet, he could keep tabs on the older man out of the corner of his eye, and it soon became apparent that the agent would grab his arm the second he started to sway.  Normal-Q would have found that intensely patronizing and infuriating; drunk-Q apparently wasn’t as touchy about the whole subject.  He felt the need to voice as much, the words feeling suddenly very important, “I’m not usually like this, you know.”

“Like what?” James asked back equably.  When Q looked up, he could’ve sworn he caught the tail end of a smile before Bond schooled his expression into polite unreadability.  

Q recovered himself enough to stop walking, glare, and say very clearly, “I can rescue myself.”

Blue eyes narrowed.  “I’d thought,” James observed slowly and more cautiously now, “that we were talking about how many times I’ve kept you from falling on your arse, but we aren’t anymore, are we?”

Q felt his face heat up as he realized, no, he wasn’t talking about that anymore.  At some point, mid-sentence, he’d started thinking about his plans again, and the shift in his thoughts was so sudden and unexpected that he began to rethink just how terrible this drunk business was.  “Don’t you ever get me drunk again,” he snapped to hide how close he’d come to spilling information.  Q turned away sharply and began stomping (with as much grace as possible) in the direction of the marked exits.  As he gained a bit of personal space, Q muttered furiously to himself, “I did rescue myself.”  All of the Havenots were trained for solidarity: they rarely worked on teams, always alone.  And Q especially.  He’d been trained to do things without help, so that’s what he’d done.  James Bond was just a tool he was using; the man wasn’t a help.  No one helped.  This was all on Q.  

The grim direction of Q’s thoughts ground to an abrupt halt just a few steps later.  Coincidentally, Bond had called his name at the same time, but the real reason the young boffin had come to a halt was because he’d looked up… and had seen doors that looked outside.  His first look at London since he was a child.

And it was snowing.  

~^~

There was definitely more to QB-T1 than met the eye, and James was half-tempted to try out a few interrogation techniques while the fluffy-headed little monster was still a bit under the influence.  In the end, the only reason that James didn’t was because it somehow didn’t seem fair.  Usually, ‘fair’ wasn’t a word in a 00-agent’s dictionary, but for some reason it stayed Bond’s hand this time.  Maybe it was the look on Q’s face when the hacker had said, “They let me out so rarely…” or the uninhibited way Q had curled into him on the plane, as if James were someone safe.  

The reaction on the plane had been created by alcohol and circumstance; Bond was under no illusion that Q liked or trusted him.  Q’s unexpected comment about his life at the House of the Havenots, however, had sounded wholly true, and just thinking about a kid being locked up like that made Bond’s stunted morals roll over and growl.  Bond did a lot of immoral things for the sake of a mission - and some of those things he’d already done, without regret, to Q - but this was someone else doing the deed, and James figured he was allowed to hate bad people other than himself.  

That was the thought he was rolling around in his head - molding it into something he could stomach, avoiding some of the sharper edges he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with yet - when he saw Q skid to a clumsy but sudden halt.  “Q?” he called.  Reflexively, he did a check of their surroundings, but saw no immediate threat.  Confused, the agent trotted to catch up, pausing when he was able to get a look at Q’s wide, hazel eyes gazing with something between wonder and pure shock at the world outside.  It took a beat for Bond to realize what was going on, and in that moment, he felt something in his chest painfully twist.  

He considered saying something, making a joke.

Instead, he fell into a parade-rest stance from his Navy days, at-ease at Q’s side so that they were both watching the snow.  Perhaps it was the alcohol making Q just silently stare, blinking slowly, occasionally swaying just the tiniest bit, but James didn’t think so.

When James finally broke the silence, it was to awkwardly clear his throat, and then say almost gently, “There’s a shop.  Not far from here.”  Q finally turned to him, understandably bewildered by the non sequitur.  James avoided his eyes, watching the snow himself instead.  He did elaborate, however, “We should buy you some proper winter clothes so that you’ll be at least halfway presentable.”  If Q pressed, James was prepared to complain that the sweater he’d lent him was too big, and looked silly.  It would be a bit of a lie, but lies with a purpose weren’t bad, in James’ books.  

And the sweater was too big.

Out of the corner of his eye, James could see Q trying to puzzle him out, but the young hacker gave up after a moment or two - since Q had thus far proven to be quite tenacious, James blamed the alcohol for the quick reprieve.  “Come on, let’s get moving then.  The sooner we can get you dressed like a London native, the sooner M can meet the rabbit that broke into her servers.”

“I’m not a rabbit,” Q repeated what he’d said multiple times already, but this time it was said distractedly as he looked out the window again.  When James glanced over, there was a heartbreaking amount of wonder in Q’s eyes… and it moved the world just a little bit for James.

~^~

The awe only increased once they were outside, and by this point, Bond was willing to grudgingly admit to himself that he was a bit enamored with the look on Q’s face.  It had just been so bloody long since James had seen another person so amazed by something that he couldn’t stop looking - and Q certainly wasn’t noticing the scrutiny.  In fact, Q was barely noticing the cold, as they stepped out of the airport and fat flakes began drifting down within reach.  Head tipped back, eyes wide behind his glasses, Q stretched out both hands in a move so simple and pure that James felt something jealous twist in his chest.  00-agents didn’t do ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ in any way, shape or form, and James had never really regretted that until this moment.

 Despite the jealousy curling hot and ugly in his chest, however, James didn’t step forward to interrupt Q or to ruin the moment for him.  Looking back, it would seem like a strange thing to do - for a man very much known for ruining things.  In fact, he almost felt bad when he had to hail a cab, waiting until the last possible moment to walk up to Q and - after uncharacteristic hesitation - lay a hand on his shoulder.  Bright, distracted eyes immediately swiveled to him, and James, not knowing how to meet that gaze for some reason, found himself staring at Q’s hair instead.  Little specks of white like fresh stars were settling in it, pristine and delicate for brief seconds before melting.  “Do you want to stand here and freeze, or get in the cab?” he asked with something more like his usual, sharp-edged teasing.  He even pasted a crooked smirk on for good measure.  

The glare he got in return was half-arsed at best, a sign that the needling had failed.  When Q huffed out a tolerant sigh, however, the hot air clouded in front of his mouth and lifted his bangs in the updraft, an unexpectedly adorable sight.  “If we must,” Q said with a put-upon tone, and slipped past Bond with a pushy nudge of one bony shoulder.  Q muttered back over said shoulder, as prim and prideful as a Siamese cat, “But you’re footing the bill.”

Back to Q and expression therefore invisible, Bond huffed out a silent laugh and smiled.  

~^~

Whatever pain medications MI6 gave to their field-agents, it was damn fine stuff, but it was possibly worse than being drunk in some ways.  Q found that he didn’t hurt anywhere anymore, but he was also stumbling and swaying more, and while his speech - thank god - was still clear, he definitely wouldn’t be faking sobriety anytime soon.  Still, on a certain level, the floaty feeling in his head made Bond’s particular brand of annoyance easier to deal with.  

“You’ve got the fashion sense of colorblind packrat,” Bond opined from where he reclined on the chair just outside the dressing rooms.

Q had tried to slip away from Bond on two occasions, wondering if this might be an opportunity to gain his full freedom ahead of schedule, but it seemed that the agent was prepared for such antics.  Bond’s ability to somehow be everywhere at once, combined with Q’s continued lack of nimbleness, had by this point convinced the boffin to stop his efforts.  Even if escape were not out of the question, Q had to admit that it was strangely exhilarating to walk around a store and choose what he wanted to cover his body with.

Even if James, apparently, felt the need to voice disapproval.

Dressed in a button-down, cardigan, and slacks that all seemed quite wonderful in Q’s opinion, the young hacker went from appraising himself in the mirror to glaring at James’ reflection in it.  Deciding that he did not come this far just to have someone voice unwanted opinions about his first set of freely chosen clothes, Q spun around.  As he swayed, a part of his mind piped up to let him know that this was probably a bad idea, but by then Q was determinedly putting one uncoordinated foot in front of the other and stalking the few steps it took to get to Bond.  The agent had made sure not to ever be too far away.  

“For one - I’m drunk,” Q said flatly, and a few other shoppers nearby turned.  The part of Q’s brain that was still functioning in a logical fashion told him that making a scene would only end in trouble, so he leaned down to talk more privately.  “And whose fault is that?” he demanded.

While the logical part of Q’s brain had said to lean closer so that his conversation didn’t carry past Bond, the rest of Q’s body didn’t quite cooperate, and he ended up closer than he’d intended, having to catch himself on the arms of Bond’s chair, leaning over the man.  Fortunately, the agent seemed supremely unbothered, although from this close distance, Q could see the way the man’s eyes flashed with surprise for just a millisecond before it was all hidden beneath a lazy half-smile.  “Technically, it was necessary because you-” James started to answer.

Inebriated-and-medicated-Q didn’t like doing anything by halves, so he cut Bond off before the man could get going, “Don’t answer that.  Secondly-”  Q was close enough to see Bond’s face without his glasses, so he tilted his head so that he could glare xyresically over the rims of his spectacles, pulling out the biggest gun in his present arsenal, “-Up until today, I lived in an underground facility that trained children into weapons, and my entire wardrobe was chosen for me.  Do you really want to talk about this right now?”  

Bond’s eyes narrowed warily, as if he were suddenly face-to-face with a bomb instead of a teenager.  “No,” he decided slowly.

“Good man.”  Q clumsily patted James’ chest and then straightened, only recalling his sabotaged balance when he staggered and nearly fell on his arse.  Thankfully, despite Q getting in Bond’s face, the agent still took it upon himself to reach out and catch Q by the elbow.  “Much obliged,” Q sniffed primly.

Then went back to finding whatever clothes he damn well pleased.  Having to endure Bond’s babysitting was more than worth it just for that.

~^~

Q eventually ended up buying, on top of sensible slacks, some button-downs, and a handful of cardigans, a dark brown Anorak coat that James referred to as “marginally less atrocious because at least it didn't have a pattern on it.”

As it was, Q didn’t give a flying fuck what Bond’s opinion was, and said so.  It was amazingly liberating to be able to speak his mind around someone (especially since Q knew that he’d have to start censoring his words and tone again once they reached MI6), especially since all Bond did was growl a little bit and then accept Q’s words.  It made Q unaccountably pleased to have his opinion accepted with only that token rebuttal, and he secretly wondered if all normal people were like that - or if it was just certain blue-eyed MI6 agents.  Either way, James kept his criticism to a tolerable level, and never once told Q what he should and should not put on his body.  

“MI6 is footing the tab anyway,” James explained himself at one point with an easy shrug, looking decadent and lazy as he leaned against the entranceway to the fitting rooms.  “So your stunted fashion sense in no way reflects badly on me.”  

Q was just drunk/drugged enough - and just relaxed enough, in a thrilling way that had everything to do with the fact that he was starting to realize that he’d escaped the House - that he stuck his tongue out in response without hesitation.  Bond’s expression morphed to one of vaguely scandalized surprise before he choked down a laugh, looking away.  

Now they were in a cab again, and the sky was growing dark.  The snow had ceased falling but the temperature had kept dropping, but Q felt too… just plain wonderful… to really complain about any of that.  He was also pretty sure that combination being medicated, drunk (or maybe hungover), and possibly jet-lagged had him feeling as high as a kite.  It had been manageable in the store (minus the annoying lack of coordination), but apparently everything had finally kicked in now.  Q doubted that he could walk in a straight line, and was also pretty sure that if his brain were working better, he’d be worried about this delayed reaction.  

Instead of being worried, he tipped his head and asked the agent sitting next to him in the back of the cab, “You know what, Bond?”

The man in question made an interrogative noise.

Q, who at some point had tipped a little, but was still held mostly upright by the sturdy structure of Bond’s right shoulder, stated candidly, “You’re an utter bastard.”

“I’m so glad you noticed.”

Still staring forward at the oddly fascinating bald spot in the back of their driver’s head, Q smiled and finished with sincere enthusiasm, “But your painkillers are lovely.”

There was a long pause in which Q sensed that the agent was staring at him.  Q just kept staring forward and enjoying said painkillers.  “I... think we need to drive around the block a few times until you get your head on straight,” James opined slowly, and then leaned forward to re-instruct the cabdriver.  Q found himself unavoidably slipping sideways, and it didn’t even occur to him to flail or right himself.  Q’s disinterest in his own posture lead to him sliding down behind Bond.  As Bond jerked in surprise, Q just hummed, finding his new position very cozy.  Snugged between Bond’s lower back and the seat, Q smiled again and closed his eyes, drifting.  James darkly muttered something, but it wasn’t enough to get Q to move, and soon agent did the job himself: he reached back and awkwardly manhandled Q into an upright position once more.  

“I’m never giving you drugs again,” Bond grunted, clearly exasperated.  

“Probably wise,” Q agreed even as he failed to wipe the silly grin off his face.  Head tipped back against the seat, he now sank down into his new coat.  It occurred to him, briefly, to freak out about his present state of mind - since he was supposed to be arriving at MI6 before long.  But the thought quickly flitted away, replaced by the warm hug of his Anorak and nebulous thoughts about freedom and snow.  

He sagged against Bond’s shoulder again before long, and while the man released a put-upon sigh, he didn’t push the hacker away.  

~^~

James was pretty sure that Q was legitimately hypersensitive to the painkillers he’d been given.  Either that, or James' tolerance was higher than he thought, and MI6 had necessarily spiked his medication - not knowing that it would be shared with a scrawny boffin who was a lightweight in just about every sense of the word.  Fortunately, the reaction didn’t seem dangerous.  However, it still meant that Q was in no fit state to meet M.

Running through his available options, James was on the verge of giving the driver new instructions when his mobile rang.  Plucking it out of his pocket and instantly recognizing the number, James brought it to his ear.  “Marty’s Mortuary speaking: you stab ’em, we slab ’em,” James answered blithely.

Eve Moneypenny’s snort was audible on the other end.  “Good to know you can become a comedian if this job doesn't work out,” she teased, then grew a tad more sly to add, “Usually it would be no surprise that you’re back in London but haven’t checked in - but a little birdy down in Accounting told me that you were buying clothes at a little London shop with MI6's money.”  On his end of the line, Bond’s expression froze into something calm but cold, and he kept listening silently as Moneypenny finished, “And here I thought you only bought fancy, foreign clothes.”

Moneypenny’s curiosity was obvious, beneath the benign words, and it made James’ mouth tip up again on one side.  “Well, it wouldn’t do to become predictable,” James volleyed back, and it wasn't a lie: Q was going to be one helluva surprise for MI6.  

“And now you’re just procrastinating until someone drags you in to make your report?”

James actually was thinking of coming in, but not to make a report.  He glanced over at the youth next to him, finding Q with eyes closed and mouth open, drooling just a little as he napped on Bond’s shoulder.  It was more adorable than it should have been.  “Maybe I’m just out enjoying the new-fallen snow.”  

“Yeah, right,” Moneypenny scoffed, but then gave up, and after a few more verbal paries and pleasantries, hung up.  By that point, however, James was sure of two things: firstly, that he was going to head to MI6, but not until he was sure that M had gone home for the night, and two… he actually had enjoyed the snow.  

He looked at Q again, the boy named after a Scrabble tile and afraid of flying, who had perhaps been the reason the snow was so enjoyable.  “You know what, Q?” he asked.  It was an echo of Q’s earlier question, but said so quietly that it didn’t stand a chance of waking the kid.  In fact, Q started snoring in little puffs.  Knowing that there wasn’t a chance of either Q or the driver hearing him, James went on, even as he reached over and just barely brushed his thumb over one of Q’s blooming bruises, “You’re a little monster.”  Dropping his voice even lower, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear his own words, the agent then admitted, “But I’m glad I didn’t kill you like I was supposed to.”  

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

Q had the vaguest memories of his first night in London.  He remembered a hospital bed and a harried-looking nurse who asked a lot of harried-sounding questions; he remembered Bond giving smooth, unhesitant answers.  He ultimately remembered being told that he’d be okay in the morning, and he might have said something to the effect of him feeling very okay already.  From there, he recalled Bond’s hands on him.  It took him a moment to realize that the agent was hooking his arms under Q’s shoulders and limp knees, and lifting the hacker in a sudden swoop that made Q’s head spin for a second.  “Come on,” the agent rumbled, sounding amused.  Or perhaps fond.  It was hard to tell.  “No one likes to sleep in Medical.”  Q squirmed for a bit, but any combat training he’d ever had appeared to be inaccessible right now, although he suspected that he annoyed Bond with his squirming nonetheless.  He heard a few growled curses, before the arms around him tightened enough that it didn’t feel worth it to wriggle.  Bond was surprisingly warm and smelled like sweat and gun-oil.  Q lost track of time, but it still didn’t feel like very long before he was being set back down again; if they even went outside, he didn’t remember.  Blinking fuzzily, he tried to take stock of just how out of it he must be if he was missing entire chunks like that, but when he tried to sit up, a big hand pushed down on his shoulder.  Q got an impression of Bond above him and a worn couch under him. 

“Where are we?” Q mumbled.  He meant to demand, but it didn’t come out quite like he’d intended.  

“Just go to sleep, Q.”

“Not until you answer me.”  This time Q managed to infuse a bit more haughtiness in his tone, even as he subsided down onto the couch.  It felt comfier by the second, although his glasses were a bit in the way.  He carefully crooked an arm under his cheek, not wanting to remove the glasses and risk helplessness, but also not wanting to bend them.  

There was a creak across from him.  Q opened his eyes enough to see James sitting down in a rickety looking metal chair.  Behind him was a kitchen counter and refrigerator, although the only light illuminating things came from the partially open door across the room.  A kitchen, perhaps.  But what was a couch doing in a kitchen?  Bond interrupted Q’s thoughts with a jaded sigh.  “Fine.  We’re still in MI6.  Happy?”

Q briefly considered being panicked and confused about that, but instead, tumbled into sleep before he could give it another thought.  It had been a long day.

~^~

Q awoke to a woman’s voice that sliced through his ears like a whip-crack, bringing him awake with a start: “Bond, what the hell is the meaning of this?”

The first thing Q noticed after the voice was the overhead light - it had been off when he’d gone to sleep, but now it was on, which led Q to the next notable fact of life.  His skull felt like it was being split open, and the light was like an icepick.  The voice was just as bad. 

“I know that you sometimes like to interpret orders in your own way, but what part of eliminating the target did you not understand?”

“Eliminate the-?” Q echoed blearily, sitting up with a hand on his skull to theoretically keep it in one piece.  He squinted against the lights as he tried to take in the situation.  Bond was still there, in his chair, looking remarkably relaxed despite what Q thought to be very obvious tension in the room.  There was a silver-haired, older woman standing over him, and despite the fact that she wasn’t a very big woman, she nonetheless radiated a kind of dangerousness that made Q want to scurry over the back of the couch.  There were three other people in the room, all men built like Bond, and it took Q a bleary second to realize that they had their hands discreetly close to their gun-holsters.  Suddenly, pieces were starting to click into place, as Q’s brain laboriously came back online.  

The woman was still lecturing, her grey eyes snapping with thunderbolt sharpness.  “And then, on top of it all, you decided to drag your prey home with you, hm?”  She sounded unimpressed.  Q was quickly getting unimpressed, too; he wasn’t prey.  He wasn’t some mouse the cat had dragged in as a present for unsuspecting owners.  “I should demote you.”

“Life would get boring if you did,” James finally decided to respond, and his smile was playful and sleek.  

At that moment, Q finally managed to compartmentalize his migraine enough to properly act on his fury.  He sat up straighter and leaned threateningly Bond’s way.  “You were under orders to kill me?  What the fuck?

“Don’t be so offended,” James frowned back, while everyone else in the room backed up a bit as if to assess the situation.  They didn’t seem to know if Q was merely a garter snake or a puff-adder yet.  James apparently knew the answer to that already, and even if Q had proven to have a lot of poison in him, it wasn't enough to get the larger man too excited.  He did turn his head in Q’s direction, though, eyes half-lidded and almost unsettlingly blue, “You suspected that I was going to kill you from the moment you met me.”

“Yes,” Q ground his teeth, pushing the words angrily past them, “But then you said you wouldn’t.”

“And I didn’t.  Why are you so upset?”

“You fucking sonofab-”  This time when Q moved, he made a leap for the man, but was intercepted before he could get off the couch.  Q’s headache was slowing him down more than he’d realized, and he hadn’t noticed one of the other men flanking him, slipping up where Q’s glasses provided only minimal peripheral vision.  Despite being caught off-guard and with his head full of hot lead, Q was still absolutely furious at being played - that, combined with his House training, allowed him to react a lot faster than his attacker suspect.  In a move that was sloppy by Q’s standards, the boffin had his attacker on the floor and was trying to decide whether or not he should waste his time breaking the hyperextended arm in his grip - or if he should keep his eye on the prize and knock the blue right out of Bond’s eyes.

Before he could decide, the other two men descended on him, and Q’s migraine-riddled reflexes weren’t quite up to the task this time.  Now it was Q who found himself face-down on the floor, cursing in Spanish as he tried to think of countermoves but his brain refused to cooperate.

Throughout all of this, James hadn’t move, and Q could just see the man’s shoes from where he was.  They crossed idly at the ankle.  Just as both of Q’s arms were secured behind his back, however, and Q began to go from angry to afraid, the agent spoke.  His voice was still playful, but something about it seemed more forced, and Q froze as he picked up the slight change in inflection - a faint stiffness that made Q think that it was more faked than anything previous.  “It’ll be a mess if you kill him in here, you know, M.”

Realizing that he could die right now, Q struggled with renewed vigor, but he was at a disadvantage.  He usually depended upon his speed and his smarts, but he was already being held down by two men bigger and heavier than him, and his brain was bogged down by the pain between his temples.  He couldn’t even figure out why his skull hurt so much, and that was very nearly as infuriating as the knowledge that he’d very possibly come this far only to die right now.

The woman, M, replied with all the coldness of the Arctic, “I’ve seen you agents make bigger messes in this breakroom while cooking.”

James, unexpectedly, kept trying, his voice growing ever-so-faintly more earnest by the second.  Q actually stopped fighting just to strain his neck back and watch.  One of James’ feet was tapping now, like the tip of a cat’s tail when it was vexed, and the tiny smirk on his face looked frozen.  “What about the phrase ‘don’t shit where you sleep’?”

“You brought this shit home, 007.”

Q’s eyes widened.  ‘007?’  He hadn’t hacked that deeply into MI6, because that wasn’t necessary for his plans, but he’d been curious enough to poke around just a little bit… enough to know what a designation like that meant.  Suddenly Q re-evaluated just what kind of person he’d been conning.  At the same time, he was rather surprised that James was so young.  00-agents were supposed to be veterans of the trade - old-knives, rather than young-guns.

Even more surprising, James was still arguing in Q’s favor: “All right, so I thought outside the box a little bit.  I thought it was the best idea at the moment.”

“You weren’t hired for your free-thinking skills.”

“Bullshit.”  Cussing out his boss was a bold move, and perhaps James realized that, because he went on pretty quickly, losing the smile and getting a bit more placating in tone, “Fine.  I’ll admit that he’s a little shit-”

“Hey!” Q snapped.

M looked down at him, one eyebrow raised, before giving her own opinion.  “That’s a positively fond term, Bond, for someone who hacked MI6’s servers, so kindly get to the point.”

Both Q and James looked properly chastised at that moment, but while Q subsided sullenly on the floor - resigning himself to the cuffs biting into his wrists and the knee pushing against his lower back - James got to talking again.  He must have respected this woman quite a bit beneath his bravado, because this time he followed orders and did indeed get ot the point, “I thought he’d be more valuable alive than dead.  He has skills, and he wasn’t just hacking MI6 for the fun of it.”  Pale eyes unexpectedly swiveled down to meet Q’s hazel ones.  “Isn’t that right, Q?”

Caught off-guard and not exactly in the best position to win an interrogation, Q wriggled just a bit, eyes darting between James and the intimidating M, before answering, “Y-Yes.”  It wasn’t his most brilliant answer ever, but M seemed to accept it, blinking ones before turning back to James. 

Finally breaking from his slouch, James sat forward, more intent now as he explained Q’s given reasons for antagonizing one of the world’s leading spy organizations, “The House of the Havenots has had him against his will for years - this was the only way that he could get out, you see.”

It was kind of fun to watch, actually.  James could be remarkably persuasive, and he actually seemed fervent and sincere right now.  Having spent the better part of a day with the man, however, Q was pretty sure that what he was seeing was a pack of lies, though.  The man looked entirely too wide-eyed and earnest to be the same person who had tossed Q to a pack of CIA wolves. 

By the way M’s eyes narrowed, Q for a moment feared that she also saw through James’ play.  Q held his breath, realizing that his life might very well depend upon the lying skills of one very infuriating 00-agent.  Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately - M merely made a noncommittal noise in Bond’s direction and then turned the full brunt of her intimidating focus on Q.  “Is this true, young man?”

Now Q had to hope that he could get his lying skills working.  Adrenalin had done a lot for his headache at least, and after a quick stroke of his tongue across his lips to wet them, he trusted himself enough to speak, “Y-Yes, ma’am.”  This time, the stutter wasn’t entirely accidental.  He wanted to look just as helpless as he felt, and looking scared wouldn’t hurt either.  “You-  You see, that’s what they do.  Kidnap young boys, that is.  Train us-”  He pretended to get anxious, not a hard trick, since he was almost there already - but for different reasons.  Right now, he looked down and hunched his shoulders as much as he could, pretending to be afraid of masters that couldn’t reach him anymore as he whispered to the linoleum, “Train us to be soldiers.  Defecting isn’t an option.”

“He said that he’d work for us, if I helped him defect,” James chimed in, right on cue.  The boffin resisted the urge to smile.  “He’s originally from the UK, and said that if he had to choose, being stuck with MI6 was the better option.”

“Please,” Q said, catching M’s attention again and pretending not to notice the wariness in her eyes.  He knew how to make his youthfulness work for him, especially since he’d kept his glasses on throughout this - he’d spent long enough in front of a mirror to know that it made him look even younger than his years and naive as hell.  “I’ve tried to escape for years, but with computers being my only real skill-”

James, the bastard, chimed in helpfully, “He’s got some decent hand-to-hand skills, too.”

Q shot him a glare, but realized that he’d taken down one man right in front of M.  It had been a brief victory, though, so perhaps it was fortunate that this damn headache was slowing him down.  Deciding to make the best of his current situation, Q awkwardly jerking his chin back towards the men holding him down, drawling with as much pique and sarcasm as he could muster, “Clearly.”  He let that hang, hoping two things: that James wouldn’t start talking about how Q had taken down the CIA operatives, and that everyone else except Bond would notice that Q couldn’t be that much of a fighter if he’d been neutralized so quickly.  Luck was with Q, as the silence stretched in a thoughtful way, and Bond seemed to lose interest in the conversation.  

Things were a bit touch-and-go from there.  Q could immediately tell that M was a sharp woman, which made sense, since she was the head of MI6 - but Q had been around young killers and spies since the age of five, and he wasn’t humble enough to say that he hadn’t learned anything from that.  Eventually he was allowed up off the floor, and although he was by no means released, he counted it as a win when he was moved off for a proper interrogation.  James stayed nearby, radiating a sort of carefully crafted boredom that was actually rather impressive.  He was the one who recognized what Q’s migraine was coming from.

“Head hurt?” the man asked mildly and briefly as they walked side-by-side down the hall, towards an interrogation room.  M walked behind, and the other three operatives were spread out in front. 

Q fidgeted at the handcuffs behind his back, looking at Bond askance.  “Yes,” he admitted slowly, mistrustfully.  “Is it obvious?”

Not looking anywhere but forward, eyes lidded, the older man shrugged.  “Not really, but considering your drunkenness yesterday, I’d be surprised if you weren’t hungover.”

Q’s eyes widened with realization before he could stop the expression, although he quickly schooled his features back into neutralness.  “Oh,” was all he could think to say, looking forward again as well, a mimic of Bond’s posture, “Of course.”  While he feigned disinterest, his brain was swiftly filing away the information as best he could - working around the migraine that was, apparently, alcohol induced.  Ultimately, the throbbing between his temples was too much for Q’s facade, and without turning his head he growled quietly, “If you ever get me hungover again, I will make your life very, very complicated.”

James failed miserably at holding back his chuckles in response.  

~^~

It was fascinating, watching the young hacker handle himself.  He looked scared and hopeful by turns, sitting up alertly when questioned and lowering his eyes politely when made the center of attention.  He looked so painfully young and uncertain that even James wanted to hug him just a little bit - and James was at least seventy-five percent certain that it was all an act.  

M and the others, who hadn’t been with Q for more than an hour now, didn’t seem aware, although M was clearly suspicious.  Since M was paid to be suspicious of anyone, it was no more or less than James had expected, but he still wondered if he should perhaps warn them.  Ultimately, though, he kept his own council, instead contenting himself with simply watching.  By no means did James know everything there was to know about QB-T1 either, but he figured he might see some of the dangers the others missed, if need be.  So far, though, James couldn’t see anything particularly threatening - secretive, yes, but not all secrets were universally deadly. 

Eventually James was dragged off to give his own mission report, and all the other hoops an agent had to jump through after returning from a mission - two missions, actually, since he’d been charged with hacker-hunting on his way home.  By the time he came back, he was only mildly surprised (and more than mildly amused) to find that Q was winning people over.  The shy, scared boffin with the big, worried eyes had transformed into the fresh-faced kid with a winning smile.  M was nowhere in evidence, but Tanner and Eve were in the interrogation room with Q, all with tea in hand.  Q looked pleased and relaxed.  All in all, it looked like one of those happy endings in a children's book, the only thing marring the image being the cuff that still linked Q to the table and the one guard standing at the door.  James nodded congenitally to said guard as he meandered in, to be greeted by Eve’s wry smile.   

“You lied to me,” she opened with, “You said you were in town shopping for yourself.”  She indicated Q instead, to show that she knew the truth.

James lifted and dropped one shoulder, sorting swiftly through his assortment of expressions until he found a suitably chagrined one.  “To be fair, lying is what I’m trained to do.”  Having responded, he turned his attention to Q, keeping his smile in place even as he became inwardly more curious and cautious.  The smile that greeted him was bright and cherubic and didn’t budge an inch when James made eye-contact. 

“I’m sorry you had to lie for me,” Q said, so innocent and sweet it made Bond’s back-teeth ache.  Where was the little monster who’d been making death-threats at him just hours before?  “And thank you - for buying me clothes.”  Q stroked his shirt reverently, dropping his eyes and his volume just a bit, “I haven’t had my own clothes in longer than I can remember.”

Eve’s hand stretched out, immediately stroking Q’s dark locks like he was some lost puppy that had wandered into her flat.  “Can you believe it?” Eve said, talking to Bond over Q’s head with a heavy dose of self-righteous anger in her tone.  “Every time I think that I’ve seen everything in this job, something new and fucked up manages to rise to the surface.”

“Child-soldiers,” Tanner chimed in drolly, “An oldie but a goodie.”  He sipped his tea. 

“Well, you’re away from it all now,” Eve said, and dared to lean in and press a kiss to the top of Q’s head.  Q was still looking down, but James caught the upward twitch of the boy’s lips, and wanted to drag a hand down his face in exasperation.  He was frankly shocked by how quickly Q had acquired allies - and disturbed, too, because if you had Eve on your side, you could move mountains.  

Realizing that there was no point in trying to undo this, James kept his sigh mostly silent, and kept his tolerant smile in place.  “Now you see why I brought him back instead of just killing him on the spot.”

Tanner and Moneypenny both agreed wholeheartedly, and at least James got some praise for his actions, because apparently Q was an adorable, unfortunate muffin, and James was a bit of a saint for having found and rescued him.  And maybe some of that was even true… but Bond doubted it. 

“Can I talk to Q alone for a second?” James asked, all innocence himself now.  It was a hard play to make, since both Moneypenny and Tanner know him entirely too well.  James was new to the 007 position, but not new enough. 

His expression must have passed muster, however - at least for Tanner, who gave in easily, moving towards the door.  Eve, caught up in her coworker’s momentum, gave Q’s head a fond pat before leaving as well.  She did pause at James’ side, poking a finger into his chest and saying with only partially feigned severity, “Don’t you go intimidating that boy.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” James assured with his best butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth smile.  Looking past Moneypenny, he was amused to see the young hacker wearing an almost identical expression, although his eyes had gone opaque behind his glasses, emotionally unreadable.  When Eve looked back to give a final farewell, however, the hazel gaze warmed up as if by magic, and Bond spared a moment to be impressed by just how well this kid lied. 

So, with Q being unfailingly polite to his new MI6 ‘masters,’ the room was soon emptied, leaving just James, the one security camera, and a handcuffed computer prodigy who was definitely more dangerous - and less friendly - than he appeared.  He nonetheless kept up his guileless, eager-to-please smile as James walked further in, though. 

“So, someone gave you painkillers?” James asked congenially even as he turned to sit on the table, facing Q.  This put them pretty close, especially since Q couldn’t back away very much with the handcuffs, but more importantly, it blocked the camera’s view.  Once he was sure that his back was all the camera was going to see, James dropped his own facade of friendliness and instead raised a sardonic eyebrow, drawling, “Or is that fake smile of yours ironclad enough to stay in place right through your hangover?”

James had been in this room before, and knew that unless a separate microphone or recording device was brought in, the cameras were terrible at picking up sound.  Still, he’d kept his pitch low, and he saw the second that QB-T1 picked up on this: first shock, then realization, then leashed temper flashed across the hacker’s face.  If nothing else, James had to hand it to the kid - Q was quick.  His hazel eyes had flicked around the room just once before glancing behind James and taking note of the camera and, no doubt, the blocked camera angle.  In response, Q tensed.  He didn’t cower, though, as he dropped his own facade and snapped back, “I’ve been given something, yes, when I asked nicely - something better than what you last gave me.  Are you going to be petty now, and tell everyone that I’m not always this friendly?”

Surprised by the sudden accusation, the agent chuffed out a laugh despite himself.  “I couldn’t care less.”

Q’s expression warped with surprise.  “Really?”

James did perhaps feel a little bit bad about engineering this whole situation so that Q would end up meeting the head of MI6 in such an unorthodox, unfortunate way, so he decided that Q deserved some candidness.  Meeting the kid’s eyes frankly, James admitted, “Q, all I care about is the integrity of the organization and the country I serve - so long as your attitude, faked or otherwise, doesn’t endanger those things, I don’t give a fuck.  But-”  Now, James leaned in close, his voice still pleasant but hitting a lower register that made it impossible to miss the new sincerity in his words, “-If you do endanger those things, I’ll kill you.” 

Because Q wasn’t stupid, he’d leaned back, aware of the danger and starting to test the limits of his restraints.  To his credit, however, he hadn’t panicked at James’ quietly stated promise - in fact, his expression had frozen into a glower, hiding all but the barest spark of animal fear.  To be fair, James hadn’t put all that much inflection into his voice: nothing dramatic, nothing particularly menacing.  He wasn’t being threatening, after all, merely... making a statement.  A promise.  There was no reason this couldn’t be a simple, civil exchange. 

Q’s pursed lips didn’t move and neither did the rest of his skinny frame.  James read the answer in his eyes, though, and relaxed, sitting back with a smile.  In response, one of Q’s eyebrows shot up under his hairline.  Before Q could complicate their truce with words, however, James slid off the table.  After a brief moment of hesitation, he reached forward as Eve had - instead of merely patting the mop of Q’s dark hair, however, James mussed it past all salvageability.  “Nice chatting with you, Rabbit,” James said cheerily over Q’s annoyed squawk, and proceeded to leave. 

~^~

Q was suddenly very glad that he didn’t actually plan on sabotaging MI6.  Even if he hadn’t learned that James Bond had a licence to kill, as a 00-agent, he wasn’t stupid enough to just disregard Bond’s last threat.  He was pretty sure that this was the first fully truthful exchange that he and James had actually experienced, adding extra importance to the discussion.  James seemed to be a liar ninety-nine percent of the time, so Q figured it wise to listen to that one-percent of truthfulness now that it had suddenly appeared.  

As serious as the threat had been, Q ultimately had bigger fish to fry.  MI6 was merely a means to an end, but Q kept up the charade of friendliness, still uneasy about James Bond - surely the man wasn’t just going to walk away and leave things as they were, leave Q how he was?  The blue-eyed agent knew entirely too much, and it was enough to make Q paranoid for an entire three days as MI6 slowly accepted that they’d adopted a teenaged hacker.  In that time, Q constantly expected his entire plan to collapse, all thanks to James Bond saying something about how Q was really just a bundled up package of nastiness beneath his winning smiles and puppy-dog eyes.  By the end of day three, Q had no less than six contingencies plans ready in case that happened, and yet… absolutely nothing had happened.  Q hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Bond, and there was no sign that the man had actually bothered to explain Q’s true personality to anyone.  Most of everyone was still a bit wary of the hacker, yes, but the woman, Moneypenny, had actually assured Q on multiple occasions not to worry about that - everyone just needed time to warm up to him.  Indeed, by day four, Q was finally trusted enough that he was allowed to touch a computer, having graciously agreed to take down his previous masters and oppressors.

Finally accepting that Bond was apparently true to his word - Q could do whatever he wanted, and keep whatever secrets he wanted, so long as it didn’t endanger MI6 or Britain - Q stopped looking over his shoulder and started looking to the future instead.  Under the guise of hacking into the House of the Havenots and divulging all of their secrets to MI6, Q used MI6’s superior cyberpower to dig up the information that he’d been trying to get his hands on for years. 

Buried deep in a back-up file that Q hadn’t been able to access before without getting caught was a brief report: a small boy, turned over to the House at the age of five.  

Q had to quickly close the window as MI6’s Quartermaster turned from the big screen displaying the House’s current contracts, coming back to Q’s own computer.  Q hadn’t had time to find a name or description of who had turned that dark-haired, bespectacled little boy over to a life of training and seclusion, but he’d gotten a location.  The House liked to know where their specimens came from, especially when new, foreign blood was being infused into the system.

~^~

The thought had crossed Q’s mind, that he should be patient.  That he should bide his time a little bit more, until he could scavenge additional information about how he’d come to enter the House.  However, after that last time on the computers, Q had been praised and lauded for gaining them entry into heart of such a villainous organization… and then summarily shuffled away like a gorgeous dress that had been worn once and would now be tucked back into the closet again for safe-keeping.  Despite Q’s previous assurances that he didn’t mind a benevolent servitude to MI6, he found himself almost instantly swallowed by frustration, fury, and a level of unexpected panic that he was only barely able to hide.  This was the House all over again; he hadn’t escaped.  He’d just changed cages.  For another two days, whenever someone came by to talk to him - mostly Moneypenny, who was at least refreshing company, with her sharp wit and humor - he’d ask when he’d be unleashed on the House again to wreak further havoc.  He tried to be subtle about it, to not seem to eager, but soon it became apparent that MI6 had no intentions of putting him to use any time soon.  “They’re using what you showed them, Q,” Eve assured him, not knowing that Q didn’t actually care about that.  He cared about finding out where he’d came from.  Who he was.  “You’re still a bit of an unknown, so think of this as a test-run.”  She reached out and squeezed his hand, and despite - or perhaps because of - how little physical contact Q had had in his life, he wanted to drag his hand back and hiss.  He felt like a stray cat, dragged inside a home but still half-feral.  “Soon they’ll see that you handed them a gift and not a grenade, and then things will start getting lively again.  You’ll see.  Until then, think of this as a vacation.” 

She meant well, Q knew.  And it was nice of her to visit him in the little set of rooms they’d given him - so close in design to his House accommodations that he had nearly hyperventilated the first night there - bringing in a portable telly and movies for them both to watch and poke fun at.  What Q really wanted was paper and something to draw with, though - or, better yet, an open door that he could escape through. 

Well, at least Q could manufacture that last desire.

~^~

MI6 had clearly not dealt with a prodigy like Q before.  They were aware that he was smart, and wickedly gifted with a computer, but they hadn’t quite realized how far his genius stretched - if they had, perhaps they’d have realized that he was not only dying of boredom, but that their security system was nowhere near secure enough to actually hold him.  The House had had to design special mechanisms just to keep their little goldenboy contained, and MI6 hadn’t realized that necessity yet.  So, six days after escaping the House, Q got sick of waiting for a better opportunity to hack his former masters again, and instead engineered his second escape in as many weeks.  

It was after midnight.  Q, instead of being locked in his rooms like he was supposed to, was sitting at the guard station.  The computers here didn’t have as much access as he’d have liked, but all he really needed right now was the ability to wipe the security footage - at best, it would make him harder to follow, at worst, it would ensure that no one knew how he’d escaped, and thus make it difficult to improve the locking system if they caught him a second time.  The only obvious evidence of Q’s escape was the single security guard who was now trussed up unconscious across the room.  Q was small, quiet, and very skilled with choke-holds.  Clearly, the nineteen-year-old computer geek was not a high-risk individual, or they’d have put him in a better defended sector of the building, where there was more than just one idle guard watching the video feeds.  Apparently, the well-guarded parts of MI6 were reserved for actually dangerous people.  Q felt a smug smirk tug across his lips as he finished tampering with the security footage and slipped to his feet. 

As he left the small guard station, the program he’d left running began to its work.  Various alarms - small ones, nothing flashy - began to go off, leading the rest of MI6’s security force around the building like collie herding sheep.  Q, his eidetic memory more than capable of recalling both blueprints and the patterns of false alarms, walked out through the gaps. 

He almost wished that there was someone there to see it, because he doubted that MI6 had seen such a magnificent escape plan in all its history.  Perhaps that was just Q’s ego talking, but he was pretty sure that, if asked, no one would have thought it possible to just waltz out of MI6 without so much as a shot fired.  

Compared to what Q was used to, it was veritably frigid outside, and Q immediately began plans for stealing some warmer clothing.  He regretted, for the space of one cloudy-breath exhale, that he hadn’t been able to take more of the clothes that Bond had bought for him.  Q intended to disappear, however, and that meant becoming as invisible as possible.  Now Q’s real mission was about to begin - he could find himself a jacket along the way.  Feeling too excited at the prospect of true freedom to presently worry about anything else, the boffin pushed his glasses up higher on his nose, hugged his arms around himself for a bit more warmth, and scurried off into the London night.

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

James was just rolling out of bed, considering breakfast, when his ears picked up the faint buzz of his phone vibrating.  A quick stride brought him to where his trousers had been tossed last night, and it was but the work of a moment to fish the mobile out, recognizing the number.  The agent strolled out of the bedroom, quite nude and quite unashamed of that as he answered, “Benji’s BDSM Boutique!  All of our operators are tied up right now, but we’ll come just as soon as we ca-”

He was instantly interrupted by M’s no-nonsense voice, “Your recently delivered asset just disappeared.”

The fact that M was not only calling him personally but also ignoring his atrocious phone etiquette had James’ body language shifting subtly, the lazy half-smile on his face falling away.  Instead of a lazy layabout strolling around, he became a predator pacing quietly back into the bedroom.  It wasn’t his flat - and there was actually a well-sated, pretty redhead in the bed, still asleep - but he still found his discarded clothes with calm, efficient movements.  James made a wordless noise to indicate that he was listening, and M took that cue to elaborate.  There wasn’t much to say, though, because apparently MI6 didn’t know a whole lot except that Q had disappeared like a puff of smoke. 

“I can’t give you much to go on, because none of the security cameras saw anything,” M said, frustrated in that carefully hidden way of hers.  Her anger was like smoke slipping past the clenched teeth of a dragon; James could sense the heat, smell the burning.  “The Quartermaster’s team has determined that the footage was edited, however.”

“Did Q mess with anything else?” James asked as he exited the bedroom and closed the door, clothing draped over his arm.  Capturing the phone between his ear and bare shoulder, James kept up the conversation as he began to pull on pants and trousers.  

“He appears to have set off internal alarms in a highly coordinated fashion, no doubt to facilitate his exit.  Other than that, it doesn’t appear so, no.  He mustn't have had time.”

“Or inclination,” James noted savvily but otherwise didn’t pursue the subject.  Already his mind was going over all of his recollections of Q - his body language, the secrets piled like treasure on his tongue, the way he was far too smart to endanger his own life needlessly - and combining that with what he was being told now.  007 came to the pleasant conclusion that Q had probably followed James’ advice and done no damage to MI6.  “Do you have someone on his tail yet?”

“No.  That’s why I’m calling you,” M said, and then finished with the succinctness of the highly peeved and also highly busy, “Report to the Quartermaster.  He’s trying to catch sight of Q on CCTV, an when he does, that’ll give you a place to start.”

~^~

Three hours later, the promised ‘place to start’ had not materialized yet, and James was by this point fairly certain that it wouldn’t.  However, all of the intervening time that he’d spent watching the Quartermaster try and fail to track Q down, had been highly entertaining - and informative.  It was clear that Q had vanishing skills like a centipede had legs.  CCTV had turned up nothing: Q was either aware of the cameras in London and avoiding them, or he was somehow editing them.  Being smart enough to consider the latter option, the Quartermaster and his team had started looking for signs of hacking.  Again, virtually no luck.  If Q was meddling with feeds to stay hidden, he was covering his tracks.  Since it seemed that Q had escaped with barely the clothes on his back, further attempts were then made to track down transactions, but in this weather, it was impossible to look into every occasion when someone had bought a coat, even if you narrowed it down to Q’s scrawny size.  The Quartermaster did at least assure James that Q would not be leaving the city, but since James had been assured that he himself would not leave cities before, he knew that that was something of an empty promise.  Q probably wouldn’t be able to make it onto a boat or a plane without being flagged, but there were a lot of other options for a savvy little ghost like Q - even without any I.D. on him.  The Quartermaster was keeping an eye on the various black markets in the area, to ensure that they also caught Q if he tried to get himself a fake I.D.  It wasn’t an altogether bad plan, but it was altogether too modern for James’ liking.  Sure, technology had made it much easier to track down people in a big city like London, but MI6 seemed to be forgetting that Q was a prodigy in exactly that same technology.  

They were playing right into Q’s hands.

“007?  Where are you going?” the Quartermaster turned and asked, noting the agent striding towards the door.  

“Out to grab a coffee,” James lied smoothly, “Call me if you find any leads before I get back.”  Knowing that no such call would be forthcoming (if Q-branch started calling him, it would be thirty minutes later, when they started to wonder where he was), James turned his mobile on silent the second he was out of Q-branch.  Instead of heading towards the carpark, he stood for a moment, thinking, glancing up and down the halls.  He’d been briefed on where the unconscious security guard had been found, and where the alarms had gone off, and where the cameras had shown a lot of conspicuous nothing…

Putting to use the skills that had gotten him promoted so swiftly, James began mentally figuring out Q’s exit strategy, following it on foot and feeling like a hound picking up a scent.  

It wasn’t necessarily that Bond hated newfangled technology, or was pompous enough to think it inferior to his own skills; it was that he knew Q enough to know that there would be no beating the kid at his own game.  The Quartermaster had apparently been given permission to head up the search, and in doing so, had forgotten that he was teamed with a 00-agent - not because said 00-agent needed someone to guide him around, but because together, they perhaps could have pooled their knowledge into something more useful.  Now, with MI6’s assistance becoming less and less likely to gain results, James fell comfortably back on his own skills, taking to the streets and realizing how much he’d missed simple hunts like this.  Usually, if he was seeking out a target, it was in a new city, with a new culture and a foreign language to all factor in.  Now, he was on home turf, and it made everything… unexpectedly more relaxing.  Fun.  James couldn’t exactly track a falcon on a cloudy day, but he felt confident in his ability to find a boffin-shaped needle in a London-shaped haystack.

Bond tempered his hubris, reminding himself that while Q was specifically skilled with computers and tech, he’d been raised as a diversified weapon - that would make things more difficult.  If Q had been taught enough hand-to-hand skills to hold off three CIA agents and later take out one MI6 employee even while hungover, then the kid could probably take care of himself, at least a little bit.  

But he still had to eat and he still had to keep warm, and that was enough to get James started.  He also, as he walked, considered other things that Q had said to him, things about London… things that had seemed as close to the truth as James had heard from the young hacker.  Rolling those curious little nuggets of information around in his brain, James began checking in with old contacts, ones that he rarely had to use in his own city.  MI6 kept an eye on some of the more used identification forgers, but James knew twice as many personally.  

He asked questions.  He watched things.  All in all, James hunted in exactly the opposite way that the Quartermaster was hunting.  You didn’t bring a knife to a gun-fight; you didn’t even bring a gun, not when you were dealing with a sharpshooter.  No, if you were smart, you brought knockout gas and just one mask for yourself, and never let the shooter see you.

James picked up a trail by noon.

Briefly, he considered calling it in, to at least boast about his progress.  However, by this point, he had three missed calls from MI6 - all of which leaving voicemails with nothing useful in them.  Being a contrary sort of person and very averse to being mothered, James put his phone back in his pocket without calling.  Besides, Q was pretty wary, and James didn’t want more people getting involved and spooking him.  It would be better if Q-branch remained confused and in the dark, and far away as James worked. 

He was clearly behind Q by a few hours, but he took his time, confident that he’d catch up eventually.  At first, he’d thought as MI6 had, that Q would be trying to flee the city, but the more clues James picked up, the less likely that seemed.  Every time he caught the scent of his prey, it became more and more clear that Q was actually staying in London.  Strange… and also intriguing.  Interest piqued, James forgot more and more about calling in and instead buried himself more in his task.  Some people had seen Q, and Q in turn had been asking questions.  “What are you after, Q?” James murmured to himself, breath clouding in the chill evening air as he cast his eyes across the crowded world around him, “What game are you playing?”

If this was just a simple case of Q escaping when everyone dropped their guard, then he should have just fucking escaped.  Even with the bigger forms of transport being monitored, and even with Q being so young and broke, he could have been kilometers from here by now.  James had started out on foot and had been prepared to drive eventually, but it seemed increasingly like that wasn’t necessary.  Q was after something, and it was apparently in the area, and James felt himself growing more curious by the second.  He had a taste of mystery on his tongue like a dab of honey, and he wanted more of it now. 

By the time evening drew closer, James was still no closer to discovering Q’s endgame, but he felt like he knew more about Q than he had before.  He’d also been decreasing the distance between them with the steadiness of an avalanche gaining speed behind a skier. 

~^~

Why did his old home have to be so bloody cold?

Q had managed to buy a jacket, but it was too big and nowhere near as warm as the one Bond had bought him, and suddenly the enchanting quality of a real winter was wearing off.  If only he didn’t have so many damned people looking for him, he’d have been able to pickpocket a bit more freely, and then maybe buy something that was actually warm. 

Reminding himself that complaining wouldn’t make things any better, Q pulled his hood up over his head and stuffed his hands moodily into his pockets.  He spent another minute wishing he had stolen some gloves, and then stubbornly got moving again.  A cab looked inviting, but again: people were looking for him.  He also was saving the money that he’d stolen, knowing that he’d have to sleep eventually, and it would have to be indoors or he’d freeze.  The problem was, he finally felt like he was getting close, and dammit why weren’t the days longer…?  

Huffing in annoyance, Q got moving again, his mental map of the city (memorized while he had access on MI6 computers) allowing him to move efficiently even as he amended his path to avoid cameras.  Another reason to avoid cabs - traffic cameras.  Moving warmed him up a bit, but it also reminded him of how hungry he was, tempting him to buy something for his stomach.  He could always pickpocket another wallet, and replenish the meagre cash that he’d spent.  Surely, the risk would be worth it?

Realizing that he’d stopped moving again, distracted by hunger now instead of cold, the young man made an angry noise in his throat and purposefully stalked onwards at an even faster pace.  He did not have time for distractions!  His annoying body could just deal with it.  He’d warm up and eat later.  Right now, he had to track down traces of a past life he could barely remember.  Later, perhaps after the hunt for him had died down, his searching would become easier, but the thought of waiting the weeks or even months made him cringe inside.  He’d waited since he was five years old and had been stolen away; he wasn’t waiting even an hour longer.  He had exactly one memory that he knew came before the House of the Havenots, and he was determined to start there and find where he’d come from.  What he’d been taken away from.  

That was why, when he realized that he’d never find what he was looking for at the heart of London, he headed down to catch the Tube.  The memory was frustratingly fuzzy, but what he did recall - wrapped up tight and safe within the lockbox of his mind, as carefully protected as a faberge egg - seemed to point to a slightly more rural setting, even if his House records had said ‘London.’  He’d slipped into two different internet cafes, but not only had it been frustratingly difficult to search for a random image from a childhood memory, he’d also had to keep his searches necessarily shallow and short, because he knew that people would be looking for him in places like that.  He couldn’t afford to leave any technological footprint. 

Hoping to either have more luck in his search on the outskirts, or to find a safe, cheap place to sleep there, Q got a ticket for the tube and bundled himself on board.  The relative warmth was fantastic, and as soon as he found himself a seat - towards the back of the car, so hopefully no one would sit by him - he sighed gratefully and sagged.  The Underground was actually pretty empty at the moment, and he took a moment to gauge where his stop would be, then dragged his knees up to his chest.  Hunkering in the corner, he promised himself just a bit of shut-eye…  Closing his eyes and pillowing his head on his arms, atop his knees, he idly catalogued the general creaks and groans of a train at rest, the footsteps of people - maybe just one or two - entering or exiting this car.  When one decided to sit at his end of the car, Q made a grumpy noise to himself but otherwise didn’t move, feeling too achy and tired.  

Until he heard the person speak.  

You have a lot of explaining to do.”

Q registered the familiar voice before the words, and from the first syllable was sitting up ramrod straight, panic suffusing him like ice through a vein.  Sitting across from him, dressed as impeccably as a businessman, was James Bond.  Before Q could bolt, one sharply-clad leg extended to prop itself against the cushion next to Q; this blocked off the easiest exit.  Q had boarded the car at the end of the line, so perhaps he could exit in the other direction, if he wanted to jump down onto the tracks.  And if he didn’t think the agent would grab him first...  

James raised an eyebrow at him, as if he were seeing inside Q’s head and watching all the plans boiling rapidly to the surface.  “Settle down there, Q,” the blond-haired man rumbled lowly, his voice sounding to Q like the growl of a predator.  He maintained fierce, unblinking eye-contact until Q, lacking any other options, eased tensely back down into his corner.  The hacker held his breath and prepared himself to act as soon as James projected his next move, but instead James just continued to sit there, watching him.  In fact, he put his other foot up on Q’s seat, starting to invade his personal space.  “You’re a hard kid to find, you know.  Care to tell me why you got so cozy in MI6 only to fly the coop now?” he asked with bland sarcasm.

The doors were closing.  Q expected any moment for the agent to grab him and yank him out of the train and back to MI6.  “I’m not a kid,” he nonetheless felt the need to snap back.  He hated how anxiety made his voice raise a pitch, belying his declaration.  “And I see no purpose in discussing this with you.”  Feeling trapped, Q shifted uneasily, his stomach clenching painfully around the sense of failure blooming there.  He’d come so far, only to be tracked down by a bloody agent-!

Q’s growing distress was cut off by shock, as the train’s doors closed.  James hadn’t moved.  The man was still watching him, appearing nothing but patient and calm.  And maybe curious, in a shuttered sort of way, the emotion almost entirely hidden behind the sharp opacity of his blue eyes.  Q met those eyes in confusion as the train got moving, both of them still very much on it, and moving away from MI6.

“Why aren’t you taking me in?” Q asked in a whisper, unsure of how to feel now.  

James shrugged.  “I can always catch a train back and drag you with me,” he explained, but then added just as lightly, “Besides, I figured there was no need to rush.  You’re clearly a man on a mission, but I don’t think that mission is escaping, exactly.”

While a tiny part of Q was appeased by being called a ‘man’ now instead of a ‘kid,’ the rest of him was still very confused.  Suspicion was kicking in, too, because Q had not been raised as a trusting person.  Wrapping his arms around his drawn-up legs and narrowing his eyes at his companion now, Q asked slowly, “What do you mean?”  More sharpy: “How do you know I’m not escaping?  I’ve got plenty of reason to do that, you know.  MI6 was keeping me in a shoebox.”

For a second, James’ expression slipped into a surprised frown.  Ah, he hadn’t seen Q’s living arrangements then.  Q felt somehow vindicated by the brief look of outrage that lay on Bond’s face before it was wiped away, replaced by a calm mask again.  Crossing one ankle over the other, James folded his arms and got a bit more comfortable before replying, “Perhaps you are, but that’s not the real reason I just chased you all around London.  Or are you too directionally challenged to escape a city of this size by going in a straight line?”

The dig at Q’s intelligence had him bristling before he even realized it, and he’d bared his teeth and almost snarled something before he cut himself off.  James hadn’t changed in the slightest since they’d last seen each other; the agent still got under his skin.  “Well, I’m leaving now,” he sniped, regaining his composure a bit.

“Where to?”  James cocked his head, eyes keen, voice deceptively light.  

“None of your business.  You just want to take me back to MI6 anyway.”  Feeling defeated, Q sagged back, mimicking James’ folded arms in a more defensive manner.  He realized belatedly that this made him look like a moody teenager (which he was), but he didn’t care in that moment.  Bond was ruining everything.  “Why do you even care?” he spat out.

It wasn’t until that moment that Q realized how close he was to frustrated tears; his day had been long, stressful, and cold.  He was hungry, he’d had virtually no success all day at hunting down his past, and now it looked like he wasn’t going to get any more chances at it.  MI6 would surely keep him on a choke-chain after this… if they didn’t just go through with their previous plan of quietly disposing of him.  Q found that he was less afraid of dying than he was of not knowing who he’d been before QB-T1. Clenching his jaw and glaring, Q tried to keep all of these feelings from showing, even as his body ached and his eyes felt wet behind his lashes.  

By the way James was watching him, it was hard to tell what he saw on Q’s face, but the man was maddeningly perceptive at times.  He must have seen something, though, because suddenly he looked away, at the dull passage of the tunnel around their traincar.  His voice was unexpectedly nonchalant, “I don’t care.  But I figure it can’t hurt to let you get this out of your system, whatever it is.”  Profile to Q, one blue eyes swivelled to pin him with a canny look.  “If I brought you back now, you’d just try to escape again, yes?”

Moody and also very confused by James’ demeanor, Q briefly pondered lying.  Ultimately, though, he settled on a muttered, “Yes.”

“If you finish this… whatever it is… will you stay put?” James pressed in a slightly more exasperated tone.  

Q couldn’t believe that this was happening.  All he could do was nod dumbly. 

“Good, because I may not be in the country to track you down next time,” James retorted easily, still playing at annoyance.  Or, at least, Q suspected that the annoyance was faked.  Bond was a skilled liar, but when he was talking this smoothly, Q was almost certain that it was fabricated.  “I’ve got one condition,” the agent surprised Q by lifting up a single finger.

Cautious and distrustful again, Q tensed, but had no choice but to reply, “What is it?”

“You tell me where the devil we’re going.”

That would have been an easier demand if Q had had the slightest idea…

~^~

It had been difficult to get the whole story out of the hacker, mostly because Q clearly didn’t want to share it.  James was persistent, though, and he’d ensured that Q didn’t really have any other options: either he told James what was going on, or James carted him straight back to MI6 and dumped him there on his arse.  Expecting some story about revenge or a hidden stash of illicit money, James was surprised to find Q’s motives were far more personal and benign. 

“I… I only have one memory, before the House.  I remember someone holding my hand and taking me to the center of a grove of golden trees, and passing me off to the House beneath the shadow of an angel.”

The explanation would have sounded ridiculous - fantastical even - if Q hadn’t said it with such quiet fervor.  By this point, James was quite impressed by just how well the House of the Havenots had taught their little hacker to dissemble, but this time Q spoke in a tone of voice altogether different from anything James had heard before.  Q was neither demure nor conniving, neither blankfaced nor angry.  He wasn’t puffing up to scare James off, nor was he trying to put him at ease in any way.  Instead Q was simply staring forward, eyes unfocused behind his glasses, and speaking with a slow determination and a quiet voice.  

Unsure how to respond in the face of this unexpected candor, James faltered for a second, finally managing to ask, “So you want to find this ‘angel’?”

“I want to find me.”

Some part of James had still been considering carting Q back to MI6, but in that moment, he realized that he couldn’t.  What had started out as curiosity had now grown into something else, and he looked at Q with new eyes.  Sadness twisted unexpectedly in his chest.  This was the same kid who’d had all of his clothes chosen for him for years, and who barely knew what snow was…

You’re going to regret this, James…’ he said to himself.  Outwardly, he just sighed, ran a hand back through his hair, and then dropped his feet from Q’s seat to lean forward over his knees instead.  “Describe it to me,” he ordered, turning all of the focus that he’d had for hunting Q instead into finding Q’s golden tree and overshadowing angel.  

At first, James was favored with an incredulous look.  Not surprisingly, Q didn’t believe in James’ good intentions.  To be fair, James had threatened to dislocate his thumb, had maneuvered him into a fight with CIA agents, and had then gotten him hungover for his first visit with the head of MI6.  The real surprise was that Q kept talking at all, instead of just punching James in the face.  “I...uh… I remember a walking path, so I think it was a park…?”  He went on from there, haltingly and with constant slantwise glances at James, as if expecting him to retract his helpfulness at any second, or suddenly reveal it all for some elaborate trap.  James almost wished that it was, because if MI6 ever found out that he’d done this for a teenaged fugitive, he’d never live it down. 

Eventually, Q was talking fluidly and openly, perched on his seat with his legs folded and his hands gesturing animatedly.  He was still trying to accurately describe something that he barely remembered, but his reticence had faded away, and he clearly wasn’t as afraid of James anymore - which stung the agent’s ego a bit, but he figured that it was for the best.  If he needed Q to fear him later… well, then he’d deal with it later.  Now, the atmosphere was almost relaxed, with James nodding and listening silently except for the occasional guiding question or request for elaboration.  He’d slouched in his seat, his feet once again near his younger companion, and tried not to think too hard about why the hell he was doing this.  

“I know where that is,” he said suddenly instead.  

Q stopped talking instantly, eyebrows winging up to disappear beneath his mop of hair.  The look he fixed James with was filled with so many naked emotions that James almost wished that Q would go back to being catty and guarded again.  “You… You do?” the hacker stammered back. 

Still hooked on the emotions in Q’s eyes - like silver fish beneath a clear lake’s surface - James just nodded.  

Unfolding his legs, Q leaned forward, his eagerness transparent.  He almost looked ravenous, and suddenly James understood: this wasn’t just why Q was wondering around London, seemingly aimlessly.  This was why Q had set all of this up.  This was why Q had hacked MI6 and coerced a 00-agent to take him back to London.  James honestly wondered what Q would have done if he’d been picked up by the CIA instead - would Q had then pulled more strings and manipulated more people, all to end up here?  Suddenly, James wanted to know just how many places Q had hacked…  With a whole new respect for Q’s insanely single-minded determination, James nodded again and this time verbally added, “I do.  And we’re headed in the right direction.  It’s a little park that not a lot of people know about.”  He further revealed, “I haven’t been there in ages,” then said no more.  He had the urge to open up, as Q had been opening up, but his training snapped his jaws shut. 

Q didn’t seem to mind.  Honestly, Q was starting to buzz with energy so obviously that it was possible he didn’t notice James’ emotional struggles, and was now sitting at the edge of his seat, hands tightly grasping the cushions as if to keep him from flying right off into the air.  “I need to go there,” he said with finality.  A bit of Q’s sharper side made a reappearance, a fierce glint in his eyes that belied his slight frame and apparent youth.  ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,’ the phrase came to James’ mind, and he raised his eyebrows just a hair, impressed.  

“Tonight?  It’ll be dark by the time we get there,” James tried to belatedly insert some logic into the situation.

But Q was not to be deterred; his alligator jaws were locked.  “And we’re already on the train there.”

“And we’ll have to take a cab once we’re off the train,” James volleyed back in kind.

Q’s eyes were getting downright menacing.  “The other option is you going back on your word, and dragging me back to MI6 right now,” he replied with all the mean skill of a sniper.  A normal person would have been hurt; James, instead, found his fondness growing.  The kid was good at this.  “So, what’s it going to be?  You said that if I explained, you’d go with me - and I’ve explained.  I also fucking swear that if you try and drag me back to MI6 before we get to that park, I will kick and bite the whole way and scream that you’re trying to molest me.”

Okay, so perhaps James’ fondness was tinged by annoyance, because that last one was a low blow.  “Language,” James decided to chide instead of finding a suitable comeback.  He was shocked when his reply caused a complicated wave of emotions to roll across Q’s face - for a second, Q looked startled and lost, his barricade of anger splintering.  James sat forward.  “What is it?”

Instead of answering, Q broke eye contact and stood.  Since the train was still moving, and they were a ways yet from their next stop, there wasn’t anywhere for Q to go, so Bond let the kid move.  He just sat and watched, perplexed, as Q paced, arms hugged tight around himself like he was breaking.  When Q paused at the furthest reaches of the train car, practically standing with his face to the wall, shoulders hunched in a way that made James suspect tears, the agent stood and approached silently.  As he got close enough, he noted with respect that Q wasn’t crying, but that he looked to be tangled up in some very crying-worthy emotions.  “Tell me,” James said, more quietly this time, from where he stood now just behind Q’s left shoulder.  The hacker twitched in surprise to realize that James was so close, but didn’t turn.  Where his fingers peaked out from beneath his arms, wrapped tightly around his ribs, they were white from pressure and shaking a little. 

“I think-” Q started shakily, and at such a low volume that it was almost lost in the rumble of the train.  If James hadn’t been so close, he’d have heard nothing.  “I think someone used to say that to me.  I-”  He gave his head a rapid shake, turning just enough so that James could see him now in profile, although the hacker wasn't making eye-contact.  His expression looked frustrated and distant.  “When you swear in the House, they don’t say that.  They don’t just correct you.  They make sure you never swear again, because swearing makes people notice you, makes you stand out,” Q began to explain painstakingly.  The insight into Q’s past years made James go very still.  “But… But I think I remember someone… someone rolling their eyes at me, rolling their eyes so hard that I could feel it without looking at them, and saying…”

“Saying what I just did?” James finished understandingly when Q couldn’t.  

While Q, looking very young and very lost, stared ahead at nothing and began to nod, the train signaled its next stop and began to slow.  James gripped a pole with one hand and braced his feet, his other hand coming automatically to Q’s shoulder when it seemed like Q wasn’t going to fend for himself.  The youth swayed into him, still adrift in memories that he couldn’t quite see.  They were silent as the train slowly halted, as the door slid open.  This close, James could see that the bruises from Q’s scrap with the CIA had faded, and that his eyes looked clearer when behind spectacles rather than contacts.

“Come on, Q,” James said quietly, having the urge to touch but restraining himself to just give Q’s hood a tug.  “If we stop here, I’ll hail us a cab the rest of the way.”

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

This was not how Q had expected this scenario to play out.  He’d expected either to get away without a trace, or to be tracked down and dragged back to MI6 - so when he’d seen James, he’d been sure that it was either an unmarked grave or a forever-home in a jail-cell for him.

Instead, he was now sitting in a cab with the man, and not even caring about being seen on traffic-cams because he was finally headed to the place where his life had collided with the House of the Havenots and changed forever.  James had asked the driver to take them to a park near some church just outside of London. 

“Stop fidgeting.  You’re making me nervous,” James said, but Q didn’t listen, and the man didn’t press from where he sat to Q’s left.  The driver likewise ignored the exchange.  Q kept pressing his nose to the glass of the window, or trying to peer ahead of them, all of his attempts at seeing their destination foiled by landscape or the encroaching darkness.  The driver had asked them if they really wanted to go to a park when night was falling so soon.  Q had opened his mouth to say of course they wanted to fucking go, but James had clamped a hand over his mouth.  The agent had then put on one of his incredibly gracious and incredibly fake smiles and said basically what Q said.  But with less swearing.  Because the driver didn’t know James like Q did, he’d smiled back and asked no more questions.  Q had pried James’ hand away and slid into the cab, deciding that it would only slow them down if he took the time to punch James in the kidneys. 

“I swear, if you’re just messing with me about this-!” Q threatened in a sharp undertone at one point during the drive, suddenly realize that this could all be an elaborate game.  From what Q had seen, Bond was enough of a sadist to do it. 

The agent had held up both hands in a slow-down-there gesture and cut him off, “I’m not messing with you, Q.”  His voice was calm and mollifying, and Q looked shrewdly for signs that it was all faked.  He couldn’t find any such signs - which didn’t necessarily mean anything, because James was clearly a fabulous liar when he wanted to be, but Q was…  Q was just too damn hopeful to really look a gift-horse in the mouth for too long.  He’d immediately gone back to shifting in his seat and peering out all of the windows. 

Beyond that, and the occasional, half-hearted entreaty for Q to sit still, James said nothing.  It was a surprisingly nonjudgmental ride, even if it still felt like it took eons.  Q found himself asking “Are we there yet?” like a child half his age and couldn’t seem to stop, and when they approached a mass of trees and began to slow, Q couldn’t hold himself back.  Barely had the cab-driver started to say, “Here we are, St. J-” than Q was forcing the door open and leaping out.  He distantly heard James bark his name, but it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he was here, and answers were here, his childhood had ended here, and he could could start tracing it back to where he belonged…

Of course, almost as soon as he’d entered the trees, his heart plummeted, because he didn’t know where to go from this point.  

There was snow on the ground like there hadn’t been in London, and it crunched behind Q as Bond approached.  Q could hear the cab idling, but couldn’t be bothered to think about what that meant.  He couldn’t think about anything except the violent aching in his heart, a desperation that had nowhere to go.  

“Here.  So you don’t freeze.”  Something heavy fell over Q’s shoulders; James’ posh-looking grey peacoat.  It was terribly ill-fitting, but warm as a furnace.  If James was still annoyed by Q’s impulsive flight from the car, he didn’t make any indication of it. Instead he just stuck his hands in his trouser-pockets and indicated with his chin, “This way.”

Following James was hard, not just because Q just wanted answers, dammit, but because James had a longer stride than him, and didn’t seem to mind the twilight dimness.  So while Q wanted nothing more than to just break into a run and make a beeline for his destination, he walk-trotted along in Bond’s wake, swearing when James sometimes left the path and bits of underbrush caught at Q’s ankles.  Thankfully, they mostly stayed on the trail, and the biggest frustration was the one point where James stopped, looking back and forth and frowning. 

Q’s heart plummeted.  “Don’t tell me you’re lost.”

James just glared at him and started moving again.  If they were lost, it lasted only another minute or so, and then James was sighing in almost imperceptible relief.  They’d been in the thick of leafless trees, and Q had to peer around James to realize that he’d stopped at the edge of a small, manicured clearing.  The untouched snow sparkled.  “We’re here,” James said neutrally.

Q exploded past him, mussing up the perfect snow and stumbling blindly towards a massive hunk of granite.  It was a statue, showing a saint of some variety humbled in prayer… and an angel flapping above him.  Q’s heart skipped a beat and his breath came to a halt in a way that sounded suspiciously like a whimper.  He came to a stop in the statue’s shadow, shaking and imagining himself smaller, so small that he’d have been looking straight up so that he could barely see the saint but could easily see the seraphic wings.  For a moment he could imagine the trees in full, autumn leaf, as golden as a dragon’s hoard.

“St. Jude,” James said unexpectedly, his voice shattering the illusion and leaving Q feeling off-balance for a moment.  He blinked and was shocked to find his eyelashes damp and sticky.  While James walked idly closer, seeming to inspect the statue thoughtfully, Q took his glasses off to give his eyes a quick, embarrassed rub.  “The church is nearby, so basically everything in the area is themed after it - including the park, and this statue.  Although not a lot of people know about the statue, because the park is a bit obscure.”

“How did you know about it?” Q asked, to distract from his tiny emotional breakdown.  His miniscule emotional breakdown.  Practically microscopic emotional breakdown…  He sniffled and kept his head down, pretending to clean his glasses on the hem of his shirt.  

“My parents were religious,” he said simply, but then added without changing his idle tone a fraction, “But I only came here after they died.”  Another pause; Q slipped his glasses back on so that he could peek at James’ face, trying to read his expression both in twilight shadow and in profile.  It was impossible.  James was also controlling his voice very well.  Nonetheless, the agent revealed, “St. Jude is the saint of lost things.”

They both stood there in silence, puffing out clouds of hot air into the approaching night and considering how fitting that was.  Although, Q was forced to look at James in a new light in order to see him as a ‘lost thing.’

After an indeterminate amount of time, James shifted his weight and cleared his throat.  “I told the taxi to wait, but it’s on my dime, and I’d rather not pay an arm and a leg to have him idle there forever.”

“You didn’t just use MI6’s money this time?” Q found himself joking back, even if he still felt very raw and fragile on the inside.  His chuckle felt weak and a bit watery, and he leaned forward to press a bare hand against the statue’s base, still looking up at the angel he’d held captured in his memory for so long.  She looked different.  Older.  Tired of waiting on cold stone behind a silent saint. 

Bond just snorted and retorted in kind, “I thought you wanted to stay incognito about this?”  One of his hands clapped Q’s shoulder, startling him until Bond said, in the closest thing the man probably had to compassion, “Come on, Q, let’s go.  We can come back.”

Q felt like a child again, amazed and hopeful.  Now he was looking up at electric blue eyes instead of an eroded stone face.  “We can?”

“So long as you don’t hare off again.”  James’ eyes scanned Q from his bare head to snow-soggy shoes, grimacing as he added, “Or die of hypothermia first.  You seriously aren’t aware of how winter works, are you?”

“Shut up,” Q grumped, but already found himself turning to face back the way they’d come.  In just the act of turning, it hit him how tired he was.  It was like being hit by a truck.  A truck carrying chloroform.  He didn’t notice that he’d swayed until he felt a hand on his shoulder again, this time in a more supportive role.  

Maybe Q would have argued more, clinging to the clearing where his only childhood memory lived, but he was just too tired - and this victory was honestly as far as he’d planned.  He vaguely remembered trailing James back to the cab, sticking to the man’s shadow closely enough that his forehead sometimes bumped into the man’s back if Q stumbled or James slowed down.  Instead of being the same sort of bastard who had teased Q in their past encounters, Bond kept any derogatory comments to himself, and didn’t even grunt when Q ran into him.

At some point they got into the cab, James gave the driver an address that Q was too sleepy to listen to, and Q nodded off almost instantly against the doorframe.  Only later would he realize that the feeling he was experiencing… was contentment.  He could barely remember truly feeling it before. 

~^~

James was so fucked.  

“Do you need a hand?” the cab-driver, a friendly older fellow who clearly had no idea that he was transporting an international assassin-spy and a pint-sized threat to national security, looked back to ask with a chuckle.  

Bond merely pasted on a passable rueful smile and continued to gather up a sleeping Q into his arms, trying not to hit the kid’s head on the frame as he got him out.  “Oh, I think I can manage.  He’s as light as he looks,” James joked back.  The cab-driver laughed a little and waved, driving away to leave James standing on the curb, Q out like a light in his arms, and the lights not of MI6 but of Bond’s building giving the street around them a soft glow.  James had considered taking Q back to MI6 as he’d been told to, but somehow what had come out of his mouth to the cabdriver had been the address to his flat.  Because for some reason it had seemed funny to drag Q into MI6 while hungover, but now every time he looked at the kid’s soft, slack features, he kept thinking about how he’d be like fresh meat in a lions’ den if brought back now.  James tried to defend his new reaction by noting that Q had had quite an emotional upheaval this evening… then James recalled that he’d never before based any of his decisions based on the emotional wellbeing of others. 

So very, very fucked…

Deciding to re-evaluate his recently-surfaced morals later, James swore quietly under his breath and strode to the entrance, more than ready to get inside.  Q had his coat, and it was cold. 

James had a lot of flats, and this was not the one MI6 had on file.  If MI6 wanted to find him, their inventory said to look for him in a classy, sprawling loft with access to entirely too many bars.  In reality, James only showed his face there when he needed to maintain appearances - it was like any other cover here wore, and allowed him to manipulate what people thought of him.  That was the flat of James Bond: functional alcoholic but still appreciative of the finer things, womanizer but also dashing and classy.  This flat that he now awkwardly opened with Q in his grip was actually the one he spent the most time in, though.  This was closer to what he’d label ‘home.’  It was small: foyer, kitchen, and living room were basically one space.  Laundry and storage was compact but private and serviceable.  One bedroom. One bath.  Old furniture.  He didn’t know what this said about him, but he knew that he liked it more.  

Q was lowered gently down onto the well-used tan sofa.  He stirred a bit and muttered something in his sleep that sounded like Spanish, but otherwise didn't wake, and James couldn’t resist an amused snort.  It was hard to remember, looking at Q now, that this was the same kid who’d threatened him with bodily harm on multiple occasions - and was just skilled enough to perhaps make good on those threats.  The kid was a viper.  Right now, though, he looked like a puppy after a long day.  James made a show of sighing resignedly even though no one was watching, and sat down next to Q’s feet to take his soggy shoes and socks off, glad at least that the rest of the hacker was dry.  Q slept through the whole thing, which was good, because it would have been awkward for James to explain why he cared enough to do this.  It wasn’t as though the sofa hadn’t seen worse in its time.  When James straightened, he looked around his little home and frowned, idly wondering how these conservative accommodations compared to the ‘shoebox’ that MI6 had had Q living in.

“You put your heart on your sleeve like that, James,” the agent muttered to himself as he tried to shake the thought, “and this kid’s going to eat it whole.”  He put Q’s shoes next to his by the door and went to run a load of laundry to partner Q’s wet socks with.  When he found himself putting a totally clean afghan into the drier for no other reason than to keep the kid warm, James groaned and leaned against the dryer, hanging his head defeatedly.  

Maybe ‘fucked’ was the wrong word.  Maybe James wasn’t fucked.  Maybe he was whipped.

Well, regardless of what he was, he wasn’t stupid, so while the washer and dryer ran, James booby-trapped the door and windows so that Q wouldn’t make it far if he decided to make a run for it in the night.  He also took Q’s glasses for good measure, although he was careful in his handling of them.  There.  All of those things were fittingly callous for a spy like 007. 

Of course, then James took the heated blanket out of the dryer and carefully tucked it around Q’s leggy, now-shivering frame, and just watched him for a moment before turning out all the lights and heading to bed himself.  

Bond fell asleep remarkably quickly, considering he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had another person sharing his home - much less a person as complicated as QB-T1.

~^~

Bond was a morning person.  This was perhaps as much due to nature as nurture: he’d never really had a problem with getting up early, and even before his employment at MI6, had realized that waking up early allowed him to get the drop on any non-morning-people.  Essentially, he had an advantage over many of his enemies simply by being awake and alert before them.  That thought helped him sleep at night, albeit shallowly.

Q… was clearly not a morning person.

Around 5:30 am, James had rolled soundlessly out of bed and into the living room, pleasantly surprised to find Q still cuddled up where he’d left him.  The only change was that he’d cocooned himself a bit tighter and was now drooling a bit onto the arm of the couch.  James smirked, went to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee… then came back and pulled out his phone to snap a photo.  James wasn’t much of a photographer, but the upside-down picture of Q’s fluffy head and open, drooling mouth was still quite a masterpiece.  Evil deed done for the morning, James went back to hunting up breakfast. 

He’d just put in toast and turned on the coffee-perk when he heard a groan, the soft thud of heels hitting the floor, and then shuffling coming his way.  When James looked, it was to see Q walking - truding, really - towards him, shedding first the blanket and then James’ peacoat that he’d slept with, one after the other on the way to the kitchen.  It was like watching a zombie shedding skin as it shambled, and far more amusing that it should have been.  James was in the process of wearing one of his most authentic grins in recent history when Q, eyes narrowed, rasped, “Wheremyglasses?”

It all slurred together, but the generous helping of threat in the tone helped with the translation.  James’ smirk got broader.  “In the bathroom, on the sink.”  He gave out the truth without hesitation, perhaps because he wanted to see how blind Q was by how successful Q would be in finding this location.  

Instead, Q just glared at him for a bit longer, then suddenly lifted his head and scented the air like a hunting hound.  The groan he emitted might have contained the word coffee as he started stumbling towards the machine with unerring accuracy.  Either Q’s eyesight wasn’t as bad as James had thought, or Q’s sense of smell was very acute in the morning.  Q ended up getting to the coffee machine and sort of crumpling against the counter, as if he needed it to stay upright.  James was mildly concerned by how close Q’s nose was to the machine and whether he’d get burnt. 

“How about we give the coffee some room to breathe?” James suggested carefully, getting up and, after an awkward moment of hesitation as he tried to find the best way to do this, hooked an arm around the hacker’s middle and hauled him slowly backwards.  Q immediately clawed for the coffee-maker with James immediately catching one of his hands, and there was a minor struggle before James got Q to sit in a chair away from any kind of danger.  “How the fuck have you survived this long?” James muttered in shocked exasperation, even as he had to keep both hands on Q’s shoulders so he didn’t try to get up and charge the coffee-maker again.  After accepting his fate, Q proceeded to give the coffee machine forlorn, nearsighted looks. 

The toast popped.  

“Stay,” James commanded, with a heavy dose of mistrust that came from his own track record of not following commands very well.  For good measure, he added as he gave Q’s collarbones a light press, “And I’ll get you a mug of coffee.”  Fortunately, right on cue, the machine began to produce the necessary elixir, and Q’s bleary eyes brightened a fraction.  Thankfully, Q also nodded. 

Of course, Bond was barely halfway through spreading marmite on his toast when he heard the chair scrape back and clumsy feet coming up behind him.  On most days, James would have tensed pretty badly at anything coming up behind him, but as it was, he simply turned enough to ensure that Q hadn’t miraculously regained additional consciousness in the past ten seconds, and then put out a hand to catch the kid’s shirt-collar so he didn’t hug the coffee-pot or something.  Q released a truly pitiful whine at being thwarted yet again. 

“Note to self,” James murmured under his breath, “if I ever have you sleeping over at my flat again, have the coffee made before you stumble in.”  Toast had to wait as James got the coffee poured, and even that made him wish he had more limbs, because Q was trying to crawl over, around, and through him in his search for caffeine, making grabby motions with his hands.  James honestly hadn’t had that much physical contact since the last time he’d had sex, and it was very disconcerting.  Finally, he filled Q’s grabby hands with a mug, and watched with a cautious glower to be sure the boffin didn’t scald himself.  Thankfully, for the first half a minute, Q merely hung his head over the steam and inhaled, the nervous energy in his body stilling as he was appeased.  “Happy now?” James asked, getting no answer besides Q taking a small sip and then wrinkling his nose.  Bond got out creamer and sugar without asking, and the morning got a bit less insane at that point.  James even managed to prepare his toast before it got cold.

For a while, both of them sat at James’ little table (which had two mismatched chairs only out of luck, because James only ever needed one), eating and drinking in silence.  Q drank coffee without ever seeming to remove his head from the mug, but he didn’t seem to be gulping it either, simply keeping his head close.  Finally, James couldn’t help himself and asked, “Are you trying to keep the coffee from making a break for it?”

For the first time, Q’s nearly-closed eyes blinked almost totally open, and there was something resembling focus in them.  A frown-line appeared between his brows, and he finally lifted his head slightly.  With a bit more enunciation than before, Q rasped, “What?”

“I thought I heard your coffee asking for its personal space back, but I didn’t know if you heard it.”

Q looked hilariously confused for a moment, and then his expression grew more thunderously moody.  “Hah. Hah,” he replied succinctly, and took another sip of coffee - but this time a bit more like a normal person.  “God, what time is it?” he groaned two swallows later.

“A little after six.”

Q’s face clearly said that he had no idea why he was awake. Although before he could say anything about that, he also looked around him, and the words died on his lips.  Putting the mug down, he gave his head a good swivel, taking everything in.  James watched as his slim body tensed.  “Where am I?” he asked in the voice of a teenager who’d seen too much of the world’s darker corners to be trusting.  

James, who had also seen those darker corners, sipped a bit of his own coffee before replying, “My flat.”  To hide how monumental that information was, he went on swiftly and in the coolest tone possible, “Why?  Would you rather I’d taken you back to Six?”

“No!” Q said immediately, long-fingered hands clutching his coffee-mug with sudden desperation that probably had nothing to do with the coffee this time.  A bit slower to collect himself than he usually was, the kid looked away and blinked a few times, cheeks pinking at his own outburst.  “This… This is fine.”  The next words clearly took effort, “Thank you.”  Then, before James’ smirk could turn into a retort, Q added in something resembling his usual temperament, “And if you don’t accept my thanks like a grown-arsed man, I will hurl the remainder of this coffee in your face.  It’s still quite hot.” 

Briefly, James considered his chances of dodging… then decided it wasn’t worth the cleanup.  He shrugged and went back to his own coffee, and silence descended again.  This time, it was Q who broke it, finally putting his mug down entirely and saying with a certain amount of hesitance, “So… last night…?  You said we could go back?” 

James glanced up and was unprepared to see the naked need in those hazel eyes.  The worst part was, he wasn’t entirely sure that Q wasn’t just faking the look to manipulate him.  If it was a faked expression, though, it was quite good…  James cleared his throat and mimicked Q’s gesture of putting his morning drink down next to his plate, breaking eye-contact to watch the breadcrumbs instead.  “I did say that,” he hedged. 

Q was clearly handshy of unqualified statements like that, because he immediately asked, “But?”  James found himself at once impressed by Q’s shrewdness and also a little bit sad that someone in only their teens could already be like that.  Then again - how old had he himself been when he’d learned that the hand that fed him could also strike him?

Perhaps because he respected and understood where Q was coming from a bit more now, James gave a straight answer, “But, MI6 is looking for you.  And probably me, too, by this point.  They were calling me all yesterday.”

Q’s brows lowered in bewilderment, and he braced his forearms on the tabletop.  “And you didn’t answer?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because I do my job - which was finding you-”  He pointed a finger at Q and was amused to note the cool, offended way that Q then eyed his finger, like a miffed cat.  “-Better when I’m not being constantly hounded and told how to do my job.  Case and point-”

“Case and point being that you found me, I know,” the kid huffed, puffing his bangs back from his forehead only to have them flop back down.  Apparently his glasses usually did some of the work to keep his hair out of his eyes, making him look younger and more unkempt without them - which was damn adorable, and now James could see why Q wore contacts sometimes.  For manipulation purposes.  While Q looked nerdier with glasses, he looked younger and more naive without them.  “Where did you say my glasses were again?”

“Bathroom.”  James gestured to the appropriate door.  “Shower while you’re at it.”

“And then we can go back to the park?” Q asked stubbornly even as he stood.  The look on his face said that he wasn’t budging on this one, and it would be foolish to make him budge.  “Or are your masters yanking on your leash too hard?”

“Careful, Q; you’re not the only one who was taught manipulation tactics,” James warned idly, refusing to rise to the bait.  Q sneered at him a little but let it go, pushing back from the table to stride towards the loo, his vision apparently good enough to get him there.  “Hey, Q?”

Q paused but didn’t turn around.  

“I’m going to check my phone messages, and so long as no one has a threat strong enough to make me go back, I don’t see why we can’t go back to the park,” James decided then and there, even as some internal part of him was screaming ‘What the fuck are you doing?!’  “From what I heard, MI6 didn’t need you for anything immediate anyway, so I can’t see why it matters when I bring you back in.”

Q had turned now, and was squinting in a clear attempt to read James’ expression.  He looked very disarmed and off-balance, but he also had that hopeful look on his face again that was effectively disarming Bond.  “So… what kind of threat could… make you bring me back?” he asked haltingly.

Since the curiosity seemed real, James decided to answer it.  He lazed back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankles.  Lamenting that Q could probably not see the barracuda-smooth smile on his face, the blond-haired agent replied, “I can’t think of any, actually.  But if something comes up, I’ll let you know.”

Even if Q couldn’t see James’ expression without glasses, he could clearly read the body-language and the tone.  Surprisingly, his response was to snort.  “You’re a real piece of work, Bond.  Has anyone ever told you that?”

“So many times that it has practically lost all meaning.”

“I figured.”  Q spun on his heel again, back to being a fearless brat.  “I’m going to use up all of your hot water.”

Not sure whether to groan or laugh, James dragged a hand down his face and sighed defeatedly, “Whatever you want, rabbit.”

Q gave him the finger but kept walking into the bathroom.

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

Apparently, MI6’s threats hadn’t been all that impressive because Q and James were driving again, almost back to St. Jude’s park.  They were in an old Aston Martin, presumably James’.  Q had been eyeing Bond stealthily the whole way, trying to figure the man out and deduce what he was getting out of all this.  So far, the most plausible answer was that Bond was just the recalcitrant type, and his helping Q was just a way of thumbing his nose at the overbearing nature of MI6.  That didn’t quite explain why James had also lent Q an old sweater and jacket before heading outside into the chilly morning.  Perhaps James was okay with making MI6 wait, but didn’t want to fail his mission entirely by losing his quarry to hypothermia.  Regardless, Q appreciated it, even if both new articles of clothing were much too big. 

Q resisted the urge to ask about Bond’s motive until they arrived at the park, at which point Q’s own interests overrode any other curiosities he might have had.  He was the first one out of the car again, hearing James swear quietly behind him before turning the vehicle off and putting it properly in park.  “Slow down, Q. You don’t even know where you’re going.”

“I have a photographic memory, remember?” Q sniped back, impatience making him irritable even as he looked around to try and get his bearings.  “I could probably find the way myself, if you’d brought us to the same point the cab-driver had.” 

“Fewer parking options there,” James made the excuse but then was nice enough to stride past Q and take the lead instead of dawdling.  Q was actually glad for Bond’s long legs, because it meant that the man’s stride ate up ground even though he was technically moving at a measured, even leisurely pace, Q quick-stepping to keep up with him.  Surprisingly, James looked over at him as they entered the trees, asking, “So this place is really the only memory you have before the House trained you?”

Since there was no one else around at this ungodly morning hour (any hour before noon was ungodly, in Q’s opinion, no matter how often his handlers had insisted on getting him up early), especially since they weren’t following any jogging paths, Q decided he might as well answer, “Besides that little bit about being told not to swear, yeah.  The House didn’t exactly encourage reflection on one’s past life.”

Instead of being made uncomfortable by this, James merely hummed and nodded in acceptance.  Q hadn’t realized that he’d been tensing until he saw the non-reaction, and relaxed.  His tongue relaxed, too, spilling forth more words, “I’ve tried to get hold of my records a few times, but especially after they trained me in hacking, the House took measures to ensure I didn’t get into anything.”

“They didn’t want you to know where they came from?”

“I think they just didn’t like the idea of me getting my fingers into their business,” Q corrected, shrugging beneath his overlarge coat.  He allowed himself a small, scalpel-slice of a smile, “Which was wise of them, considering what I managed to do with that little access they gave me.”

James snorted, and while Q could only see his face in profile as they walked side-by-side, he could see the amused crows’-feet just barely starting at the corner of the agent’s eyes.  “Like bait a trap to lure in MI6 for an impromptu rescue mission.”

“Pretty much,” Q said loftily.  He was unprepared for James’ next comment, slipped in as smoothly as poison into a drink.

“And the CIA, too?”

Only thanks to all of his strenuous training was Q able to muffle his reaction of surprise, resisting the urge to twist around in surprise.  Still, it was hard to keep from twitching in shock, even as he molded his voice into bewilderment and asked back, “Why would you say that?”

One blue eye slid his way, knowing and keen, a falcon’s glance.  Once again, the question was answered with a question, “Do you really expect me to believe that the CIA just tailed us and attacked out of nowhere?”

“I thought they were after you,” Q put more effort into controlling his expression, creating a bewildered, naive mask in a heartbeat as he finally turned to look at the blond-haired man next to him, “You’re the spy, after all.”

“Funny how they didn’t seem all that interested in me then.”

“Well, you did just sort of abandon me, like chum before sharks.”  Q paused, considered the pros and cons of what he was going to say next, and then decided it was worth it: “You bastard.”  

That, surprisingly, got James to chuckle and look forward again.  Whereas Q was fighting the urge to tense up, Bond seemed increasingly relaxed, and Q made a mental note to see if he could hack into MI6’s psych evals - he hoped they realized that their 007 agent had a few screws loose.  “How about we make a deal?  With every new thing I help you discover about your past self, you tell me more about your most recent self - namely, all of your cunning little plans that led up to this moment.”

Despite himself, Q felt a little flush of pride at having his plans called ‘cunning’ and had to catch himself before he puffed up and preened.  Instead, he forced himself to stay cautious.  “Why does it matter so much to you?  I thought you already made it clear that so long as I didn’t threaten Queen and Country, it wasn’t your business.”  And since James hadn’t tried to kill him yet (much), that meant that apparently he’d deemed Q no such threat.

“Actually, what I said was,” James corrected entirely too smoothly, that little half-smile tucked up in one corner of his mouth again, “that I didn’t give a fuck, not that it wasn’t any of my business.”  He glanced over at Q, raising one eyebrow in a jaunty fashion, and admitted in an unexpectedly frank manner, “For the record, I’m a nosy bastard who considers basically anything my business.”

Q just stared at him for a moment, frowning.  “I believe you.”

The smile broadened and grew almost warm.  “Good.  We’re getting somewhere.”  He clapped Q on the shoulder.  “Now, is it a deal?”

“I don’t see how I can say no,” Q grumped but kept trudging through the half-melted snow.  He’d liked it better the night before, when it had seemed more pristined - although no less cold.  

“I’ll be more helpful if you say yes,” James added to sweeten the deal.  When he got a gimlet look in response, he lifted his hands disarmingly and continued, “I’m also decidedly less nosy when given information freely.  Feed me scraps, and I’m less likely to start gnawing on things.”

It was really a rather nice analogy, and Q made a mental note to call James a dog the next time James dared to call him a rabbit.  Besides, when put that way, Bond’s words made sense - Q had even been taught that, on missions, people would trust him more if he at least appeared to be open with information.  So that’s basically what he was being asked to do now… except that he was being asked by a man who was just as trained as Q was and likely to detect lies.  However, the more Q thought about it, the more he also realized that 00-agents probably made better allies than enemies, and that everything really had gone more smoothly when he’d had James working with instead of against him.  Q puffed out a sigh and looked away, finally giving in with as much grace as he could muster, “Fine.  I get your help, you get random tidbits about what it means to be raised as a child-soldier in the House of the Havenots.  Happy?”

“Ecstatic,” was the drawled reply.  But Q thought James really did look pleased.  

~^~

Seeing the little clearing and its statue again in the daylight was even eerier than the night before, and Q felt like a sleepwalker as he moved forward, staring up at the stone angel.  “It feels more familiar, to be here now,” he found himself murmuring.

James’ voice floated back from where he’d stopped (almost respectfully) at the edge of the trees, “Is it possible that you were brought here in the morning?  Dawn and dusk are shady times for shady business.”  He spoke calmly and simply, probably from experience. 

“Maybe…” Q replied distractedly.  He felt like he was trying to get his bearings - except he was over a decade too late.  “I think that it was a bit darker, but not as dark as last night.”

“Makes sense.”  When Q looked, he caught the tale-end of a shrug from the blond-haired agent.  “It’s already getting late enough that more people were around, and if someone was handing off a child to a top-secret criminal organization, they’d want to conclude their business before then.  Or in the late evening.”  Eyes unreadable but demeanor non-confrontational for once, James pressed, “What else do you remember?  How many people?”

“Me, and… two other men,” Q said, feeling certain of himself only after he’d tasted the words on his tongue.  When he tried to bring back more of the memory, though, it receded before him like a dream, even when he squeezed his eyes shut.  “I… I’m sure that it was light enough for me to see them.  I’m sure of it!”  Q rubbed at his temples in frustration, snarling, “Dammit, why can I remember everything else in perfect detail but not this!”

When James spoke again, his voice was closer, despite Q never hearing him approach, “Don’t be too hard on yourself.  You were pretty young, and there’s a difference between not remembering, and purposefully forgetting.”  When Q made a growling noise in his throat, a preemptive sound to an argument, James unexpectedly concluded his statements, “Believe me, I’d know.”

Caught off guard, Q turned to look at Bond, who was standing only a few strides away, blue eyes steady and frank, if not exactly easy to read.  The morning sun was catching his eyes, turning the pale blue nearly transparent, even as Q felt his head clutter up with more questions about the man.  Before Q could organize them enough to pick a single thing to ask, James pulled his hands out of his pockets and prompted, “Keep trying, Q.  Close yours eyes, if it helps you get back into the memory.”  

Recalling that this was what he came here for (not to dig into the peculiarities of a strange 00-agent), Q gave himself a mental shake and turned his head forward again.  After a moment’s pause, he did indeed close his eyes, hoping desperately that it really would help.  James’ voice kept following him, mellow and steady, “Now, you said that there were two men.  If you can’t describe what they looked like, describe where they were standing.  Where were you?”

Q slitted his eyes open just enough to shuffle closer to the statue without tripping on anything; he’d already instinctively found this spot the second they’d arrived in the little clearing.  “I was here, and… and someone, a man from the House, I think…  I think he was right across from me.”

“About here?”  

Q startled, eyes flashing open.  He once again hadn’t heard the agent move, and now James was standing about two meters in front of him.  Embarrassed by his own shock, Q glowered and snapped the first thing that came to mind, “Get a bell!”

James’ mouth quirked up at one side in something like surprised amusement.  “I’m sorry, did you want me to make a production of moving?”

“I want you to not sneak around like a big, bloody cat.”  Q stuffed his hands huffily into his pockets.

Blue eyes glittered at him.  “I’ll take it under advisement.  Now - is this where the House’s man was standing?” James wisely steered them back on track, gesturing mildly to himself with one gloved hand.  

Rolling his eyes and deciding that he could play along, Q assessed the situation, frowning and trying to match up foggy memories with the more crystal-clear present.  He found himself assessing, “I think… I think he was closer.  Not that much-!”  James had taken a step forward.  Q shooed him back with small flicks of his fingers until half of the distance had been retracted.  “Okay, I think that he was right there,” Q said, feeling something elated unravel inside of him at the rightness of that statement.  He still wasn’t sure how this was helping things, but it somehow felt validating to see James filling the footsteps of what had previously been a foggy memory that lived nowhere else but in Q’s head.

And James, back to being sensible instead of a bastard, nodded encouragingly.  “How about the other man?  The one behind you?” he asked next. 

This one was harder.  Q barely even remembered seeing the man, and the clearest part of the memory - when he’d stood here, under the statue of St. Jude - had Q facing forward, the second man more of a sensation at his back than an image he could view in his mind’s-eye.  Q tried a few times to verbalize what he remembered, but nothing seemed right, and he ended up snapping his mouth shut with an audible click of teeth and a tiny, frustrated growl.  James was surprisingly quick to step in and remedy the situation: “Just close your eyes, Q.  Think back.  You know that there was another man behind you.”  Q did as instructed, his ears sharpening to the agent’s words.  “How did you know he was there?”

This time, the words slipped out of Q’s mouth of their own accord, “I could feel him.  He was touching me.”

Q heard Bond’s footsteps this time, proof positive that the man had more than one setting when he moved - being bloody silent was a choice.  And now, he was choosing to let Q follow him by sound.  “Keep you eyes closed,” the man instructed quietly, even as the sounds of his boots on the slushy snow circled around behind Q.  “Was he here?  Like this?”  The bootsteps halted close enough at Q’s back that James’ presence was like a vibration up and down his spine, the hand on his shoulder making him startle.  

But it also seemed to jumpstart Q’s memory, and the boffin found himself babbling, “Further away!  He…  He wasn’t as close as you, and his hand…  Not on my shoulder, put it on my arm.  My left arm.”  James’ hand obediently moved, and Q shivered, eyes still tightly closed, as he felt himself dunked into the memory as if into ice-water.  “Tighter,” he breathed, until the grip on his upper arm was sending pins and needles down into his fingers, a throbbing discomfort up into his shoulder.  It was as if his eyes were open, but seeing something else now: looking out into a deepening dark from a lesser height, gazing up at a pale face only just developing brackets alongside the mouth, and red hair likewise only starting to recede from a high forehead.  The angel winged above, St. Jude barely noticeable to a small boy’s frightened, confused eyes.

It was James letting go that jerked Q out of it before he could start hyperventilating.  

“The grip expresses controlling tendencies, or possessiveness,” James began speaking, and Q found himself blinking and floundering mentally, even as he turned to regard the agent’s calm, focused features. “But the distance he - and it probably really was a he, for a grip like that - held himself from you speaks of callousness.  If you were being dropped off by a reluctant family member, they’d have stayed bloody close to you, regardless of how tight their grip got.  Gripping your arm instead of your shoulder is also a lot more about control than it is about reassurance, so there’s that.”

“How do you know all this?” Q blinked up at him, still a bit dazed.  It felt like his brain was rebooting.

“00-agent, remember?  You’re trained to read computer coding - I’m trained to read people,” was the easy answer, although James was looking at Q more closely and frowning now.  No doubt he was reading his companion just as he’d read the situation.  “You all right, Q?”

He really wasn’t sure that he was, but he knew that he would be, because he was remembering things rapidly now.  Working his head up and down in a jerky nod, Q redirected the conversation by stating, “It was evening, not morning, and I can describe the man who picked me up now.  I haven’t seen him in the House, but it’s not like they ever had company Christmas parties.”

Blue eyes sharpened with interest.  “But you’d be able to recognize pictures of him?”

Now that Q had retrieved the memory, it was vividly etched in his mind.  “Definitely.  He had red hair, a receding hairline, was maybe in his early twenties… a bit young by House standards,” Q mused, then showed that James wasn’t the only one who could read into things, “Which probably means he was pretty low in the hierarchy, at least at the time.  Pretty much anyone of note that I ever saw in the House had earned that position over a long period of time, and were older.”

“Makes sense,” James conceded, shrugging, “Illegal organizations as a whole depend on trust, and trust takes ages to build when you’re dealing with distrustful criminals.  It’s not the kind of place where young prodigies just appear out of nowhere and become a rising star.”  Suddenly, the agent’s mouth quirked in a smile, and suddenly he was stepping forward and reaching out to ruffle Q’s hair into complete disarray.  As the boffin squawked and ducked to escape too late, the agent finished his statement in a lackadaisical tone, “Present company excluded, of course.”

Pleased that his prodigious skills had been noticed, but less pleased that he now had to pat his hair back down, Q glared but resisted the urge to trip the agent as James walked past him to gaze up at St. Jude and the angel.  “Do you remember what they said?” the agent pressed next.  Compared to how they’d been standing a moment ago, with James impersonating Q’s ‘seller,’ the blond-haired man’s body language was now aloof and non-confrontational.  Q wondered if it was on purpose.

Thinking back on the memory again, a few more pieces began to fall into place, and Q ran his fingers back through his hair once more before saying quietly, “No.”  He hesitated long enough after that one word that James turned around again, brows lowered and eyes questioning.  It took effort to meet those eyes as Q finally added, “I think… I think I was drugged.”  He didn’t know why he felt so vulnerable, saying that about an event that had happened so long ago, but just for a moment, he’d felt like he was back there, and small and young.  “That’s why the memory is so foggy.  I can barely remember anything auditory at all, but I remember that I was dizzy..”

James’ expression had changed in subtle yet significant ways: understanding had flooded it, even as his eyes had… not quite softened.  Darkened, definitely.  There was a complicated mixture of surprise giving way to almost anger behind an imperfect mask of acceptance.  It was the most candid expression that Q had seen on the man thus far.  “And you do seem to be sensitive to drugs of other kinds,” Bond said, more softly than before.  There was something of a storminess to his gaze, something that Q hadn’t seen before, as if there was a lot of lightning tumbling and coiling beneath the blue of his eyes.  “That might even explain why you can’t recall much of anything before that, if you were drugged to keep you docile, and it worked too well.”

That possibility hit Q like a sucker punch, and he wrapped his arms around himself on reflex.  He wanted to sit down, but there were no benches.  He suddenly wasn’t sure he really wanted to know all of this.  

James’ voice was low and gentle as it reached out to him from a few paces away, “You all right there, rabbit?”  For once, the nickname didn’t sound like a taunt, unless it was a small one attempting to distract Q a bit. 

Q hunched his shoulders in what might have been a shrug, and gave his head a restless motion that might have been a nod.  All he ended up saying, though, was, “It’s just that… so much of my life has been fucked up, but I’d hoped… I’d hoped that this would be the one part that wasn’t, you know?”  He bit the inside of his lip to keep from saying more, already regretting having said anything at all.  Adding insult to injury, his eyes were prickling hotly with tears, which he absolutely refused to shed.

There were a lot of things that Q expected James to say, ranging from useless platitudes to stiff rebukes about the ugly realities of the world.  Instead, Bond surprised him by murmuring only, “Let’s go home, Q.”

~^~

Since James rarely even referred to his own flat as ‘home’ even when thinking to himself, he wasn’t sure why he’d called it that when giving directions to Q.  Maybe it was because the kid had looked so fragile - like someone had very nearly knocked the fight out of him - and James just wanted Q to know that there was a place waiting for him where he could pick up the pieces. That’s what homes were for, right?  Safe havens where you could lick your wounds in peace? 

James glanced at Q - who hadn’t spoken since they’d left the park - as he drove, and thought very uncharitable things about people who gave children away to be trained up into pretty little monsters.

MI6 called again just as they were entering the house, Q shivering and mute as he toed off his dripping shoes.  The fact that the kid didn’t even seem interested in the phone-call was almost the most worrisome part, so while James answered the phone, “Satan’s Den - what the Hell do you want?” his eyes followed Q as the kid wandered deeper into the house.  

“Good god, it never ends with you.”  The voice, surprisingly, was Eve’s.

James made an effort to reduce the growl in his voice, watching Q disappear into the bathroom before heading to the kitchen himself to put the kettle on.  “Are you referring to my dry wit or my peerless stamina in bed?” he purred lowly.

“I’m actually referring to your habit of being a pain.  Like a migraine that never really goes away.”

“Ouch, Moneypenny, that hurts,” James lamented as he filled the kettle with water.  

“You know what else is going to hurt a bit?” she retorted, although if Bond wasn’t mistaken, there was a hint of exasperated amusement in her voice, “You, being marked a rogue agent, because you’ve been willfully MIA since yesterday.  If you hadn’t picked up the phone now, drastic measures would have been taken.  As it is, the Quartermaster is so mad at you that I was barely able to convince him to let me try my hand at getting your attention.”

“Well, you always were good at catching my attention,” James admitted, a Cheshire smile tucked into the corner of his mouth even as he checked to see what kind of food he had in his fridge.  To be fair, he’d learned to make meals out of basically anything or nothing - starvation was a quick teacher. 

“Cut the charm, Bond.  Where are you?  You’re supposed to be working with Q-branch to find that hacker kid,” Eve ended the playful banter.  

Before James could come up with a reply, he glanced back towards the living room - just in time to see Q, sans jacket and socks but now with the addition of a laptop in his hands.  James had honestly forgotten that he owned a laptop.  It appeared to already be up and running, the glow reflecting off Q’s determined, bespectacled eyes.  “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” he said distractedly and then hung up on Eve’s responding shout.  He stuffed the phone in the fridge before closing the door, making a beeline for his temporary housemate.  Alarm bells were already going off in his head.  “Q, what are you doing?” he demanded as calmly as humanly possible.

What James had mistaken for early onset catatonia in Q’s face now looked a lot like stubborn focus.  Q plopped down onto the couch, laptop across his knees, without so much as glancing as its actual owner.  The young hacker merely frowned as he muttered back, “I’m going to find that bloody redhead.  I may not be able to find that other bastard, but if this is all I have to go on, then I’m going to make it fucking count.”

This time James was a bit too stunned to go after Q for his swearing.  He’d already come up to the couch, but had frozen behind it, watching over Q’s shoulder.  “I thought I had that passworded,” he murmured, even as he saw Q pulling up screens and programs that he’d never even seen before.  

“You did,” Q said dismissively.  

“Then how-?”  Clearly, Q was already in the heart of Bond’s computer.

Not turning around or shifting his focus, Q merely lifted one hand, pointed it downwards at his own head, and stated, “Hacker.”  Which explained pretty much everything.  His hand dropped back to the keyboard and joined its mate, which hadn’t so much as slowed in its typing this whole time.  

Bond grunted, realizing that he should have seen that coming.  As it stood, though, James hadn’t quite realized the depths of Q’s skills until this moment.  The fact that Q had hacked MI6-  James’ thoughts derailed as he recognized a familiar screen.  “Are you using MI6 resources to hunt down this guy?” he asked with a certain amount of dread in his voice.  

“Only a little bit,” Q defended, once again lifting one hand to wave it a little as if brushing an offensive bit of dust away.  “If you’re worried, I’m not digging into anything sensitive.  MI6 just has really useful databases and search programs that I don’t usually have access to.”

Watching over Q’s shoulder while also making a few leaps of logic, James concluded, “This is the real reason you wanted to be taken in by a spy organization, wasn’t it?”  Q didn’t answer.  James hooked a finger in the collar of the kid’s borrowed pullower and gave a little tug, making it clear that he wasn’t going away without an answer. 

Making a disgruntled noise, Q gave in with ill grace and huffed, “Fine.  Yes.  Not only are organizations like yours paranoid enough to hunt down someone who attacked their systems, but if they took me back, I figured I’d be able to… make use of the tools they had to offer.  Just a little.”  Q paused and only turned around when he seemed to realize that James was laughing.  “What’s so funny?”

The hilarity of it all had snuck up on James without warning, and now he had his head on his forearm against the back of the couch, shaking with laughter that was swiftly becoming difficult to silence.  His other arm was still outstretched towards Q’s collar, although the grip was lax now as James’ body quietly shook.  God, this was so surreal.  James had realized that his life would be interesting from the moment he left the Navy for MI6, but he’d never expected to have a teenage hacker in his house serenely explaining how he’d gotten himself kidnapped by spies just so he could borrow their wifi (so to speak).  What he ended up chortling, though, was somewhat simpler, if no less true: “Moneypenny and Tanner are going to be heartbroken when they realize you’re not actually a harmless little turtledove.”

“Well, then you’d better not tell them,” Q sniffed and watched James for a moment more (as the agent tried and failed to collect himself).  James glanced up past his arm just long enough to think that he saw a tiny, whimsical little smile on Q’s face, before the dark-haired little menace turned back to his task again.  

At that moment, another phone in the house rang.  This was only mildly surprising; James went through burners pretty quickly and often kept separate phones for work and play.  The only question was who would know the number to each one.  He left long enough to find the second phone under his bed, and this time he checked the caller ID as he walked back to the sofa.  “Well, speak of the devil.”  This time when he answered, Bond merely turned it on and said jovially, “Some go to Heaven, some go to Hellllll-o.”

“This is why people shoot you.”  Eve sounded decidedly more peeved at him than last time.

Once again watching over Q’s shoulder with fascination, James replied idly, “This is one of the many reasons why people shoot me.”  Q was pulling up old newspaper articles now, and James gave an internal nod of approval - after all, Q was searching for someone who could have changed and aged a lot over the years.  Facial recognition would only work if you had the right timestamp and looked into the past.  “Are you calling me to give me a five minute head-start for MI6 putting a bounty on my head?”

Despite Bond’s unruffled tone, Q turned towards him, a bit alarmed.  When Bond just smiled, Q didn’t seem all that reassured, but thankfully, the young hacker was close enough to hear Eve’s reply, “I’m actually calling from Q-branch because they told me that you were logged onto your computer and doing some searches.  I didn’t even know you had a computer.”  In Bond’s shadow, Q froze.  

In all fairness, some days, James forgot his laptop existed.  The only reason it wasn’t broken was probably due to this very fact, however.  “Oh, I’ve got one.  I just prefer working with people rather than machines when I want to get stuff done,” he replied without missing a beat, waving his hand for Q to keep working, “After all, I can charm people.”

“And who says computers can be charmed?” Q dared to whisper, flashing James a sly little grin before turning back forward again.  James gave him a silent swat to the back of the head.  Q hissed at him and probably would have retaliated had not Bond frowned and directed a finger at the mobile - an exaggerated ‘I’m on the phone here!’ gesture.  Not wanting to give himself away, Q subsided with a silent roll of his eyes.  

James, finishing up his lie, said to Eve, “I’ve got a lead that will tell me a few things about Q, all right?”  Which was actually not far from the truth.  “Contrary to what everyone believes, I haven’t just been off having a lark.  I’ve been working, and probably making more progress than the Quartermaster.”

Eve snorted, not realizing that Bond’s hubris was entirely founded this time.  “Care to tell me why you couldn’t lead with that?  If you’d told MI6 from the start that you were actually getting your shit done, maybe they wouldn’t be so mad at you.”

“Where would be the fun in that?” James asked, before saying his goodbyes and hanging up.  This time he merely tossed the phone onto the far end of the couch.  “All right, rabbit, I’ve bought us a bit of time, although you might want to start hiding your trail a bit better.”  He leaned a bit closer to murmur in mock bewilderment, “I thought you were better at that sort of thing?”

Q put a hand on Bond's face to push him away.  The hacker's miffed voice snarked back, “I didn’t think I needed to be subtle, since I was on a MI6-issued computer.  I didn’t realize that you were such a technophobe that my just booting the thing up would raise actual alarms somewhere.”

Extricating his face from Q’s palm and fingers, James merely circled around the couch to flop down on the other end of it.  The phone was pushed down between the cushions.  “I’m a man of many talents.”  He stuck a leg out to nudge the laptop with one socked toe, knowing that it would annoy Q.  “That is not one of them.  I leave computers to cute little nerds like you.”

Even though Q’s ears pinked, he resisted the urge to look at James, instead lifting the laptop temporarily out of his foot’s reach and answering archly, “Fantastic.  Then I’ll leave the other secretarial tasks to you.  Your ability to answer phones is clearly phenomenal.”  There was sarcasm practically dripping from the last word, and James didn’t know whether he wanted to break out laughing again or put Q in a headlock.

What he did know, though, was that this was somehow more fun than he’d had in ages.  Certainly since that time he’d been chased around a deserted island by international gun smugglers with only a butterfly knife for a weapon.  Or maybe since that time he’d had to disarm a bomb while hanging out of a helicopter... Or maybe...

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

Q was still very much a flight risk, but James figured that the kid was preoccupied enough now that James could risk a shallow nap - at least until the tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard stopped, and if he kept the boffin nearby.  So, stretched out on the sofa with his socked feet nearly touching Q’s thigh as a proximity alarm in case of an escape attempt, James nodded off to the gentle sound of fingers on a keyboard and the occasional soft muttering.  It was surprisingly peaceful.  Of course, James was only about eighty-percent sure that Q wouldn’t try to attack him in his sleep, but that percentage was actually a lot higher than most people Bond associated with.  In fact, at twenty-percent dangerous, Q was practically a relaxing presence.  

At least, until he startled James awake with a viciously snarled, “Fuck.”

James had had his arm thrown over his eyes to cut out the ambient light of the room, but lifted it now with a jerk, quickly ascertaining that there was no immediate danger that he could see - just a swearing boffin.  “Language,” James said on reflex, lifting one foot and meaning to nudge it against Q’s side.  The moment he pressed the pad of his foot against Q’s ribs, though, he could feel that the kid was shaking, and a second glance showed that Q’s hands were white-knuckled where he held the edges of the laptop.  While his expression was one of furious anger, he looked close to crying.  James propped himself up on his elbows, one foot still flush against the side of Q’s ribcage.  “What is it?” he asked, careful and alert now.

Instead of looking at James, or even shoving his foot away, or really any of the things that James expected, Q just kept glaring with frustrated ferociousness at whatever was on the computer screen.  Before James could ask him again, though, the young hacker dragged in a ragged breath and rasped out, “He’s… He’s dead!  My one lead, that red-headed bastard from the House… he’s fucking dead!”

This time James didn’t berate Q on his swearing.  Instead, the agent rolled the rest of the way into an upright position, folding his legs so that he could sit close enough to see the laptop screen himself.  Once he was closer, he could definitely see the tears balanced precariously on Q’s lower lashes, and the spots of angry color on the kid’s cheeks.  Deciding wisely not to comment on that, James tried to make sense of the bazillion windows open on the screen while also asking, “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” was the bitter response.  Q’s finger on the touchpad brought a specific window to the foreground, snagging James’ attention.  Ah.  An obituary, albeit a pretty sparse one.  James had no way of knowing if the picture matched Q’s memory, but it obviously must have.  There was precious little information to be read either, besides a name and a date.  Said date looked like it might have been contested a little bit, but even then, the fellow must have died... not long after Q had been taken into the House of the Havenots, if Bond’s math was correct.  “How did he die?” he asked, since that was not provided.

Now Q’s eyes swivelled to him.  They looked suspicious of Bond’s interest, red with unshed tears but also rife with more distrust than a kid his age should have had.  He may as well have screamed ‘Why do you care?!’  But instead of voicing that question (as he had once before), the young hacker merely blinked once behind his spectacles and then turned back to the screen to bring something else up.  James angled himself a bit closer to read even as Q narrated, “The body was so decomposed when they found it that apparently the coroner wasn’t entirely sure.  They aren’t even certain of when he died exactly, and they only found out that it was Ronald Adair from dental records.”

“So you did find something,” James praised as he kept reading, “A name is more than you had before.”  The police and coroner’s report were now both up on the screen, and it wasn’t exactly painting a pretty picture.  Then again, James wasn’t trained to read pretty pictures - he was, in fact, trained to read gruesome ones like this.  

Q scoffed, “Hardly.  I can trace back through every computer footprint that Mr. Adair ever made, but the problem is that he’s not making any more, so I can’t exactly track him down and interrogate him.”  He glowered, but his voice sounded hurt and betrayed beneath the anger as he muttered, “There will be no interrogating him about the little boy named Q.”  As soon as he said it, Q winced, no doubt realizing that his name was as much up for debate as anything else - another thing he couldn’t very well question a corpse about.  

 Suddenly curious, James switched his attention to Q, canting his head.  “Do you know interrogation techniques?”

In response, Q leaned away from him a bit and looked shifty.  “No.”

Probably a lie.  James decided to leave it alone and focus on the task at hand, rather than the constant curiosity that was QB-T1.  “And your own name, your real one, isn’t somewhere deep in the databases of the House?”

“No,” Q groused, briefly fisting one hand.  “Someone worked very hard to hide my name.  Other kids in the program have old files on their histories, but I don’t.”

“So someone hid you on purpose,” James gleaned.  “That’s useful, too.”

“How can you be so bloody optimistic about this?”

“Q,” James said, meeting bespectacled eyes squarely and more than a bit jadedly, “In my job description, anything short of dying in a fire is cause for optimism.  So stop raining on my parade.”

Since it was pretty obvious by this point that Q had problems with authority, he briefly opened his mouth to no doubt tell James that he would gladly light his parade on fire and not even pee on the flames to put them out.  At the last second, though, he seemed to have another thought, and turned suddenly back to the computer.  “The coroner himself might still be alive,” he said suddenly.

James allowed himself a small, triumphant grin but said nothing.  Q had been nice enough to leave said coroner’s report up on one side of the screen, and James was more than happy to read through that while Q found his stride again.  Thus, the two began to work in companionable mostly-silence.  Sometimes Q would cover up something that James was reading, and the agent would briefly speak up to request it come back up again - sometimes he’d request more information, and Q, like magic, would bring that up, too.  The hacker himself mostly stayed silent, a voiceless hound on a scent, so focused that he seemed to forget about the agent next to him unless James spoke.  At one point, Bond made himself a bit more comfortable, ending up sitting adjacent to the boffin instead of facing him.  When the blond-haired man stretched an arm over the back of the couch, almost touching Q’s shoulders, the kid didn’t voice any displeasure.  They were close enough that Q was basically underneath that arm, shoulder, side, and thigh up against Bond’s, but that likewise garnered no particular response, and the two continued to make progress like a well-oiled machine. 

It was James who cleared his throat and voiced his findings first.  “So I’m pretty sure that Mr. Adair’s death was no accident.  Someone killed him, and they were smart enough to hide the body where it would be hard to find.”  When Q looked at him, truly paying attention to him for the first time in almost thirty minutes, James added, “It’s not a skill that everyone has, so you’re looking for someone with practice, possibly a professional.”

“Like you?”  Q raised one judgmental eyebrow, daring to tilt his head so that he was also looking at James down his nose.

The agent merely shrugged and echoed back unabashedly, “Like me.  Pity the body was so decomposed.  I could’ve learned more by how Adair was killed.”

“I might be able to help there,” Q announced.  He sounded triumphant for the first time in this conversation.  “I found the coroner.  He’s quite old now, but he still lives and breathes - and has a phone number.”

James knew that his grin was sharklike, but for once he didn’t feel the need to tone it down for his audience.  Q had already seen a lot of the more unsettling sides of James’ nature and still sat next to him, after all.  “Now you’re talking my language.  Give it here.”

The phone number was a let-down, but not a bust: after James fished his phone out of the couch-cushions and dialed the number, he just got an answering machine, but at least it was an active number.  Q started to look depressed again, but James was feeling more and more in his element.  “Cheer up, rabbit,” he encouraged, chucking Q under the chin and then quickly retracting his hand before he could get his fingers broken.  They were still sitting side-by-side, so he nonetheless had to weather a sharp elbow to the kidneys, grunting and accepting the punishment.  “You’re trained in hacking and cyber-hunting, but I’m training in hunting people down physically,” he went on, “Let me take it from here for a bit.”

Blinking at James, Q retracting his knobby elbow as if he was tempting to use it again but was a bit too startled by James’ sudden good nature to do so.  For a moment, he just stared and didn’t move.  “So you’re…  You seriously plan to help me track down leads?”

“You already did that,” James replied demurely.  “I’m just going to check in on a few of my connections in South America and follow up on what you already found.  It’s no big deal.”  It actually kind of was, but only because James Bond was not the kind of person who helped people out of the goodness of his heart.  He wasn’t even supposed to have a functional moral compass, much less a soft-spot for boffins in distress.  The fact that Q was a little bit amoral and terrifying in his own right perhaps factored in, but James wasn’t sure how…  

Q didn’t seem to know how to factor James in, period.  His expression was stuck on bewilderment and disbelief.  “Why?” he finally demanded.

“Would you believe… boredom?”

Eyes narrowing, Q seemed to analyze James for a long moment.  “Maybe,” he finally allowed, but didn’t sound convinced. 

Not wanting Q to get the wrong idea, James put his shark grin back on again, this time adding an edge of superiority to his posture as he tossed back, “Well, surely you don’t think I’m doing this because I’m a nice person.”  

Q immediately snorted and looked away… but didn’t confirm or deny that idea, which made James nervous for reasons he didn’t understand.  Maybe that was why, a beat later, James clapped Q on the shoulder and stood to declare, “Well, if I’m going out hunting, then you’re going back to need babysitting.  Because I can’t visit some of my contacts with a kid in tow, and I don’t trust you enough not to fly the coop if I leave you at home.  Back to MI6 it is.”

WHAT?!” Q’s squawk was shrill and downright murderous.  James abruptly felt like things were going back to normal.

Already moving around the house and collecting his shoes, coat, and keys to leave, James replied as if he hadn’t just been shouted at, “I’d leave you handcuffed to the couch if I thought for one second that you wouldn’t pick the lock within five minutes of my leaving.”

“I don’t even know how to lockpick!” Q whined.  For a second, James paused in pulling his shoes on, because the pathetic tone sounded very real.  The helpless look the hacker was giving him was also impressively sincere-looking, and that made James hesitate.  

But then he went back to tying his shoes.  “There is no way in hell you don’t know how to pick locks,” he decided.

Q deflated, sagging back onto the couch.  “How could you tell?”

“Not from your tone or expression, certainly,” James allowed, impressed despite himself.  He chanced a glance at Q, just enough to see the boffin’s chuffed expression, “But considering all the other deplorable skills the House taught you, I highly doubt they neglected to teach you something as simple as lockpicking.”

In response, Q made a grumbling noise that sounded like a grudging acknowledgement.  “What’s to say I won’t break out of MI6 again?”

“The fact that they don’t think that you’re a fluffy innocent bunny anymore,” James retorted glibly and without missing a beat.

Q, surprisingly, found that funny.  “Yeah, you’re the only one who thinks I’m a rabbit.”

And that, in turn, had James chuckling.  Q was a surprisingly amusing little mite.  “Stop stalling, Q, and grab your shoes.  I promise that I’ll go out and dig up whatever I can about Adair, but you’ve got to understand why I don’t trust you to wander around on your own.”

“But I’ve still got things to look up!” the hacker chose to whine next, and fuck was he good at pulling on masks when he wanted to.  Even though James was now one-hundred-percent sure that the petulance was faked (because it had appeared out of thin air), he suddenly felt eerily like he was dealing with a normal teenaged boy who had just been told that Daddy was leaving and the babysitter was in charge now.  No wonder Moneypenny and Tanner were taken in by Q so easily. 

“Take my laptop with you,” James decided to give in just a smidge.

“There’s no wifi in a cab, James.”

“Don’t call me by my first name in that obviously manipulative tone.”

Make me,” was the insufferably snotty retort, and now James honestly wasn’t sure if Q was faking it or not.  It was actually a bit unsettling to realize that some of Q’s acting skills were good enough that James’ training couldn’t see through them.  

Shoes and jacket now on, James straightened and eyed Q for a moment before slowly and purposefully stalking up to him.  A frosty silence enveloped the room, and quickly became charged with energy as James chose to all but stand on Q’s toes and then lean over him.  The kid shifted and tensed ever-so-slightly as the agent’s hands came to press against the sofa on either side of his head, but mostly all the hacker did was tip his chin back so that he could defiantly meet the blue eyes that hovered over him.  Leaning over Q now, in his personal space with the two of them almost nose to nose, James watched Q’s expression from up close for any signs that the kid was going to buckle or just punch his aggressor in the throat.  Hemmed in by Bond, though, Q’s only reaction was a barely perceptible quickening of his breath, an increase of his heartbeat just visible at his throat, and those stubborn hazel eyes becoming dilated with adrenalin.  

James backed off.  He straightened again and returned to the door as if nothing had happened - as if two predators hadn’t just ‘met’ each other, and perhaps politely accepted the other’s dangerousness.  Or, at least, James had.  Q just looked baffled now in James’ wake, having clearly expected something less… anticlimactic.  “If you come with me to MI6 now, I promise to make sure that they give you computer access,” Bond said, doing up his coat a bit more, as if this had been the plan all along and nothing out of the ordinary had happened, “I’ll even make sure they don’t shut you away in a ‘shoebox,’ as you put it.”

Still a bit stunned, Q just stared at him for a moment.  Then, with more no more warning than with which James had ceased antagonizing him, the young hacker stated, “Deal,” and closed James’ laptop to get up from the sofa.

~^~

Returning to MI6 hadn’t been part of the plan.  Now, as Q followed James out of the cab, he found himself embarrassingly tempted to huddle up close to James and hide behind him like a chick beneath the wing of a hen.  To be fair, James represented a fairly terrifying hen, but Q didn’t like to think of himself as a helpless fluffy chick.  When he managed to convince himself that he wasn’t that, however, his mind suddenly decided to ponder how much he suddenly felt like a puppy being dropped off at the pound barely a day after thinking that he’d been adopted.

“I won’t be gone long, Q,” James said as they walked towards security.  Q slanted his eyes at the agent, suspicious of how well James seemed to have read his mind.  He was also suspicious of James in general, but that was a fact Q had already made peace with.  Hands in pockets and walking with the easy reassurance of a tomcat on its home turf, James went on, “I’m not going to fly all the way back to South America, just check in on some well-connected but unscrupulous folks here in London.”

“Soooooo, people like you.”

“Calling the kettle black there, aren’t you?” James had the gall to say with a fickle little smile.  For a split-second, Q opened his mouth to snap something back, but… then realized that he found the statement rather complimentary.  He was being compared to people who were neither fluffy chicks nor abandoned puppies.  Feeling inexplicably more settled, Q just hummed under his breath and mimicked Bond’s posture, hands finding his pockets.  

James tugged at Q’s bunched-up sleeve.  “We really need to take you clothes shopping again,” was his only comment, but he made a face as if personally offended.  

Then he started walking around the building instead of directly to the heart of Vauxhall Cross.  “Uhhhh, James?” Q hazarded, unsure whether to feel suddenly hopeful or very suspicious, “Does this mean you’re not taking me back to MI6?”

“Oh, I’m definitely taking you back to MI6,” James popped back bubble unhesitantly, “I don’t think anyone else is fit to handle you on short notice.  But I don’t think that I could keep my promise to you if we went through security like regular employees and announced your sudden return.”  When Q just kept staring at him, perplexed, James looked back at him with a small smirk, “We’re going in the back way.”

‘The back way’ started out looking like a service entrance and ended up turning into an underground warren that made Q feel very much like a rabbit.  He watched James pick no fewer than three different lock, and carefully maneuver them both around cameras with a speed and ease that said he definitely made a habit of this.  “Actually, I could probably have taken us on a slightly more direct route,” he even mused thoughtfully at one point, right after slipping a set of lockpicks back into a previously hidden pocket, “now that I’ve got my own personal hacker who could get me through the more advanced locks they put in last year.”

“They only put in electronic locks last year?” Q asked, scandalized.  James was still moving, though, so Q scurried to catch up again.  He snagged the back of James’ coat as he continued his shocked tirade, “This is a spy organization!  There shouldn’t even be back entrances like this!”

Supremely unconcerned, James just kept walking, towing Q along behind as if unaware of the hand fisted in his coattails.  “I wasn’t consulted regarding security,” he replied blithely. 

Maybe you should have been,’ Q thought to himself but resisted the urge to speak out loud, lest he inflate Bond’s ego further.  The hacker refocused and moved around to James’ said instead of trotting behind him when he noticed the agent fishing a phone out of his pocket next - a different phone from the other two he’d seen James with, so far as he could tell.  “How many phones do you have?”

James already had a phone to his ear, but he answered anyway as it rang, “I can’t honestly say how many mobiles I have, which is the perfect number for a double-oh agent.”

“Arse,” Q replied without rancor.  He didn’t really care about that answer.  What he did want to know was: “Who are you calling?”

“Someone who can get us the rest of the way in.  MI6’s security isn’t entirely atrocious, and the next door only opens from the inside - unless you want to resort to extreme measures that set off alarms and puts you on desk-duty for a week.”

“You’re speaking from experience,” Q guessed, deadpan.  

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

Please tell me that that was before you were promoted to double-oh status.”

That, inexplicably, made James chuckle, and he replied smoothly, “Let’s just say I’ve gotten a lot sneakier since then.”  At that point, someone must have picked up, because James’ tone brightened and he replied with well-fabricated cheer, “Hello, Miss Moneypenny!  Yes, this is the man himself.  I was just calling to say that I have a surprise for you, but you’ll have to let me in to MI6 to see it.  Meet me down on sub-level C, by that one-way exit where I’m absolutely certain that no one heard you scream my name.”  Without waiting for a reply, James hung up, looking extremely pleased with himself.

Q was staring at him with something between disturbing realization and actual horror.  “Shit, have you slept with everyone?” he hissed.

“Not everyone,” James stressed, rolling his eyes even as he put the mobile away and kept striding along.  He called back over his shoulder, “Not everyone deserves me.”

“I’m traveling with a bloody narcissistic psychopath,” Q whispered to himself.  And then, because he wasn’t exactly a golden boy himself, Q caught up with James again and proceeded to keep following him.

~^~

Q was mildly surprised that Moneypenny actually met them at the referenced door and opened it.  If Q had been her, he’d have left James out in the cold, literally and metaphorically.  Her curiosity over the ‘surprise’ must have gotten the better of her, though, because the woman was standing with the door propped open against her foot as Q and James turned the corner.  Eve’s expression of intrigued annoyance shifted into one of shock the second she spotted Q.  The boffin winced as that shock became something resembling fury, and Eve gasped, “You!”

James was there to settle the tension; sadly, he decided to do so with humor.  “I heard it was bring-a-kid-to-work day, so I grabbed the most adorable one I could find and dragged him here.”  The words rolled off the man’s tongue like mercury, and he put a hand on Q’s head to ruffle his hair, apparently for emphasis.  “Isn’t he just darling?”

Slipping out from under the hand so that he could face James and bristle, Q said under his breath so that only the closer (and more annoying) MI6 operative could hear, “I. Will. Murder. You.”

“Maybe not so darling,” James quietly murmured back through his teeth, eyes flashing even though the smile was still fixed perfectly in place.  

“I can’t believe you,” Eve said.  She was dragging a hand over his face; it looked like a common reaction to 007’s antics.  “You found the kid ages ago and just didn’t bring him in until now, didn’t you?” she guessed, the words slightly muffled against the palm of her hand.  “What the devil are you up to?”

“Just didn’t want to make waves,” James explained himself, going for innocent this time.

Eve wasn’t buying it.  “You always make waves.  You adore making waves.  Tsunami-sized ones that demolish entire cities, if possible.”

“Huh.  She knows you pretty well,” Q observed quietly.  James elbowed him.  Eve watched it all with a threatening, gimlet glare through her fingers.

“Tell me,” she demanded, no-nonsense now, “Why aren’t you just bringing him in through the front door like you’re supposed to?  Why all the subterfuge?”

Instead of replying something witty about 00-agents being all about subterfuge, James settled a little bit.  Q watched him, sincerely unsure whether the man’s expression was genuine or not as it shifted into something almost contrite and uncomfortable.  “Because they had the kid in a cell, Eve,” James said, shocking Q with the candid emotion in his voice.  Surely it was faked, but Q couldn’t see any flaws in the performance.  The next part read as slightly less heartfelt, but was still quite good, “And he realizes that running was a stupid move, so it’s not like he’s unrepentant.”

Actually, Q was really, really unrepentant, but when James lifted a hand and squeezed the nape of his neck just a little, Q got the message to play along.  Smoothing his expression into something recalcitrant and a bit hangdog, Q glanced down and then back up again, over the tops of his glasses and past his messy forelock.  “Sorry.  I…  I know that that doesn’t cover it, but…  But I am sorry.”  Seeing the stubborn doubt on Eve’s expression, Q tried a bit harder, shifting his weight back and forth and watching his shoes now as he spoke.  “The cell- I mean room, that MI6 had me in…  It felt too much like what I’ve had all my life.  And the only clothes that were really mine were the ones Bond got me.”  The last he added on reflex, and because a little bit of the truth never hurt.  Bond hand was still rested on the back of his neck, and Q thought he felt it spasm against his vertebrae before stilling again.  Q looked up from his toes, and resisted the urge to sigh with relief as he saw Moneypenny’s expression softening.  It was probably that bit about mistakenly saying ‘cell’ that had gotten to her.  

She didn’t immediately forgive him, but her tone was a bit more wry and less angry as she observed, “And as a result, everyone learned that you’re quite an escape artist.”

Q just shrugged and looked down again.  If he didn’t break eye-contact, he knew that this pride would show through, because he was having a hard time remembering that being able to slip free of MI6’s grasp was a bad thing.  James came in to cover for him, saying smoothly, “To be fair, everyone here is trained to work with adults.”

To be fair,” Eve echoed back, some of her wryness getting a bit more snide, “many 00-agents are very much like children.”

There was no need for Q to look up to know that James was grinning as he replied, “You know you like my childishness.  It keeps you young.”

Q did look up to catch Eve’s eyes when the woman looked back to him exasperatedly. She jabbed a finger at James but addressed Q, “Do not start picking up his habits.  He may have given you clothes and snuck you in past security, but he’s a pain in the arse.”

“Lube fixes that, you know,” James replied without missing a beat and without any discernible shame.  Moneypenny’s head jerked to the side to just stare at the agent; Q stared, too, but with something more like disturbed awe.  He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to pretend he’d never hear that, or to make note of it.  Moneypenny ultimately decided that there was no way to answer this without inciting more innuendo, and simply closed her eyes for a few long seconds, clearly looking for strength, or some reason not to shoot the man in front of her.  James, the whole while, stood their contently pleased, his hands now in his pockets and a smile on his face. 

Forcibly moving on to safer topics, Eve opened her eyes again and asked with a resigned sigh, “So what do you want to do now?  Since you brought him in while bypassing security, I imagine you don’t intend to now present him to M like a prize.”

“Naturally not,” James conceded glibly, but went on with a bit more professionalism, “I’m actually working on something that should satisfy everyone - but he needs someone to watch him before then.”

Eve’s eyes narrowed.  Her mouth opened, a firm word forming “N-!”

James waited until exactly the start of that denial to willfully interrupt her, “Basically, Q here needs someone qualified to watch him under the radar, so I immediately thought of you.”

What followed was like a cross between a work disagreement and a lovers’ spat, deeply confusing Q about exactly what kind of relationship James and Eve had. While Eve made it very clear in tone, body language, and in words that she very much wanted to gut James right now, the agent looked more and more relaxed with every threat levelled his way.  The two parried and riposted like verbal swordsmen for nearly five minutes before they finally settled into a buzzing, crackling silence.  Q, who’d been considering the pros and cons of sneaking away this whole time (the only thing that had kept him here was the undeniable fascination that one felt when watching a train-wreck about to happen), watched and waited to see who would draw a weapon first.  James’ smile had grown thin and frosted, matching his ice-blue eyes, whereas Eve had a look of naked threat in her expression that not even a blind idiot could miss.

Instead of killing one another, though, Eve suddenly turned on her heel and huffed out a long-suffering breath.  “You owe me, James.  And for the record, I can’t watch your baby hacker indefinitely”

While Q put on a moue of displeasure at being called a baby (any thought he’d had of maybe confiding in Eve evaporated in an instant), James relaxed in a way that Eve, facing away, didn’t notice like Q did.  “Of course.  I only need assistance until this evening.”

Eve’s noise said she wasn’t entirely pleased with even this, but shockingly, she didn’t argue any further.  Q had no idea what kind of magic James Bond had, but clearly it was a magic both evil and effective.  As James gestured for Q to follow after Eve, deeper into MI6 and wherever she planned to squirrel him away, the boffin just paused as Bond’s side and considered him for a second.  After canting his head and staring for a few seconds, Q concluded quietly enough that Eve wouldn’t here, “You’re a real piece of work.”

“Oh, like you aren’t,” 007 scoffed with a roll of his eyes.  It was somehow a companionable gesture, and Q found himself fighting a small smirk even as the agent turned and loped back off the way he’d come.

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

“James had better come back before M needs me, because I do have my own job here,” Moneypenny grumbled even as she led the way to what looked like a little break-room, just one floor up.  Q had followed her meekly the whole way, to show how grateful he was that this room was promised to have a computer.  All the while, the hacker also carefully mapped out their journey, so that he could trace his steps right back out of MI6 (through a secret route, no less; thanks, James) if needed.  Right now, though, he planned to behave, because it seemed like Bond was upholding his end of the deal: the agent was out and about now, tracking down more information, and by the time Eve and Q ended their journey, there was indeed a computer.  It was an old and rather crummy computer, but Q had worked with worse.  Eve pulled up a chair in front of the door and sat in it to block the only exit, although a glance told Q that she was softening towards him again, beneath her frown.  Her arms were folded but her eyes were less sharp as they eyed him.  So Q flashed her a shy, painfully uncertain smile, murmured his quietest little “Thank you” and settled down behind the computer.  He kept his limbs in close, creating a smaller, meeker silhouette even as his fingers started flying across the keys.

At first, there was tense and bitter silence.  But after a while, Eve asked, “What are you looking up anyway?”  Her curiosity was getting the best of her; she’d been told that Q deserved a computer, but James had evaded saying why.  

There was the temptation to tell the truth, but the sad fact was that Q had about as much trust as a desert had water, and he’d only told James the truth because the man had forced it out of him.  Instead, a lie rolled smoothly off Q’s tongue, “The House of the Havenots - the place that had me for so long - is still out there.  I’m trying to keep doing what I was already doing for MI6.”  He looked up at her, putting on his most sincere expression for effect.  “I really do want to help MI6 take them down…”  He bit his lip, watching the woman watch him, sympathy starting to bubble up through her cool facade.  “But then when I was put in that cell, I just couldn’t.  James convinced me that I had to come back if I wanted to take down the people who took away my childhood, but he promised me that I wouldn’t be locked up this time.”

Moneypenny’s aloof exterior held for three seconds longer, then broke.  She unfolded her arms from across her chest and instead slumped forward, elbows on knees.  She looked guilty.  “You weren’t in a cell, Q,” she tried to soothe. 

Now it was Q’s turn to feel his mask crack, as very real anger roared up inside his chest suddenly.  He felt his lips twitch back from his teeth just in time to halt a full-blown snarl; it felt like swallowing back a mouthful of fire, but he managed not to scream that that’s exactly what it had been.  It had been a nice little cell with nice little things for a nice little boy who had no choice in anything.  Instead of saying any of that, Q forced his eyes back down to the computer, hunched his shoulders up closer to his ears, and said only, “It was to me.”

That effectively ended all conversation for a while.  Q ignored the uncomfortable atmosphere in favor of working harder, although he was careful to keep a few windows handy in relation to the House - in case Eve decided to get up and come over and actually check that he was doing what he said he was.  Which he wasn’t.  Now that James had reminded Q that even small victories were victories, and that even tiny crumbs of knowledge were still useful clues, Q was digging into his past with increased fervor.  Even if he felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere, he reminded himself that he’d already gotten somewhere - now all he had to do was keep trying.  He wanted to have something to show James when the agent got back.

Because Q for some reason didn’t doubt that the agent would have something for him in return.

Moneypenny tried to start up a conversation a few times, and to be fair, Q tried to play along as best he could - but what was there to talk about between a misplaced child-soldier and a woman from a spy organization?  Theoretically, they had a lot in common.  In reality, anytime they started talking, it was really fucking awkward.  Q was also much more interested in tracking down leads than maintaining his persona of a poor little lost boy, so his efforts at small-talk were less than stellar.  They did end up trash-talking the old Quartermaster, though.  Apparently, despite Moneypenny’s beration of James, she could actually kind of understand why 007 didn’t want to follow the Quartermaster’s whims.  Stories of the Quartermaster’s crotchety nature eased the atmosphere in the room a little bit, to the point where Q was sincerely smiling and Eve looked less anxious and awkward.  

But then Q found something.

It had been a good three hours since James had left, and Q hadn’t been finding a whole lot of additional information.  Still, he was determined, and after searching every internet back-alley and hidden door he could think of, he’d stumbled upon a blog, of all things, mentioning the Ronald Adair case.  Q usually didn’t put much stock in blogs, but this John Watson fellow seemed to have a lot to say.  Q immediately started a search in the background, looking into the blogger to see if he was a credible source or a nutjob.  Apparently, Watson was a bit removed from the case itself, but was connected with another man, Sherlock Holmes, who had been almost more obsessed with Adair than Q was right now. 

The more Q read, the more he felt his heartrate speed up, excitement prickling up his spine - because somehow, despite not being part of the police force or even in South America, this Holmes fellow seemed to know things.  Uncorroborated things, but the blogger Watson seemed to believe Sherlock Holmes with surprising fervor anyway, and Q quickly found out that John Watson was at least qualified as a doctor, so maybe his insights into a dead body were not entirely useless in and of themselves.  Plus, what Watson was writing about on his blog matched what James had been hinting at - that Ronald Adair had definitely been murdered, the body hidden.  At that point, Q learned more than James had, because Watson’s notes on his blog were actually quite detailed, and either the doctor (ex-Army doctor, Q learned soon after, his background search turning up more and more) or this Holmes fellow had apparently seen Adair’s corpse in the flesh (no pun intended).  Their conclusion: killed by a sniper.  The coroner refused to add that to his notes officially, though, saying that the flesh was too degraded to tell, and the bullet would surely have nicked bones.  The conclusion on the blog, however, was that a really good sniper could avoid that if they wanted to.

That was it then.  Q’s next lead was a really good sniper.

Actually, no…  Q’s next lead was the writer of this strangely illuminating blog, John Watson.  

Q had to talk to James.  

“Miss Moneypenny, do you think that Bond will be back soon?” Q asked, finding it difficult to be demure and polite when adrenaline was surging through his system.  He had to press his hands down on his thighs to keep his legs from bouncing with pent-up energy; he wanted to move.  James had given him the assurance that all was not lost, that information was out there, and Q had just proven the agent right - so Q couldn’t just sit here any longer.  He didn’t think too hard on the fact that he wanted James with him on this, instead of just wanting to bolt and chase leads on his own.  James was useful, that was all.  Things went faster with 007’s help, even if the man was a menace.

The woman cocked her head, but replied without any particular suspicion, “I don’t know, sweetie.  Sorry.”  She shrugged and tried on a wry smile, “He’s a bit like a stray tomcat - he comes back when he’s ready, and there’s no telling what he’ll be up to in between.”

Pushing down his impatience, Q asked further, “Could you call him?”  For most people, Q would have probably been able to just look up their number and remotely call them himself, all from the computer - but he’d already seen that James had an ungodly number of mobiles.  Only Moneypenny seemed to know which ones the man would actually pick up. 

Now Eve’s eyes narrowed just a bit.  “Why?  Do you need him for something?  You and I can get something to eat, if you’re getting hungry.”

No, Q was not hungry.  Food was a distraction.  Unfortunately, his brain was so latched onto what he was learning about Adair that he struggled to come up with a believable lie to answer Moneypenny with.  After actually opening and closing his mouth once (and kicking himself for so obvious a tell), Q cobbled together a rushed reply, “No, that’s fine.  I just…  I found something on the House that I thought he’d want to see.”

Eve’s goodwill was evaporating.  As was her naïveté.  “Can I see?” she asked, in a tone that was entirely too kindly.  She didn’t move, but she did lean forward.  Her body language reminded Q of a snake easing towards prey.

“I…  I just want to show James,” Q hedged.  

Even before Moneypenny’s mouth opened in reply, Q knew that she’d seen right through him, and was starting to get suspicious.  “You don’t have anything, do you?” she guessed.

Briefly, Q considered actually pulling something up like a rabbit out of a hat… but that took more effort than he wanted to waste, and there was no guarantee that Eve would then call James because of it.  Instead, Q just frowned and looked down again, chastised.  He pretended to go back to work.

Three minutes later, and Eve’s phone chirped loudly.  She jumped, startled, whispering to herself, “Shit, I thought I put that on silent…”  When she opened it up, however, her eyes almost immediately widened and she started swearing in earnest, “Fuck, why does M need me now?  I thought she was out…  She’s going to expect me at my desk!”  The woman jumped up from her chair with alacrity, but paused just as she started to move it away from the door.  She swung around to fix Q with a distrustful glare, then took out her phone again and started texting.  “I’m getting someone to come and watch the hallway outside of this door.  It’s not technically breaking my deal about keeping you a secret, but only so long as you stay in this room, out of sight, and behave yourself.”  Message sent, she jabbed a finger Q’s way, while he lifted his hands up innocently as if she’d pointed a gun at him.  “If you try and leave, though, not only will you get caught in a hot-second, but then you can kiss your anonymity goodbye, because security is going to hear about it.  Do you understand?”

Wow, Eve could really sound authoritarian when she wanted to…  Q was just about having flashbacks to some of his handlers at the House, the harsh voice and whip-crack of words making the muscles down his spine and between his shoulders clench.  He continued to hold his helpless pose, though, palms open and forward, and gave a hurried nod as if this sudden change of events had actually caught him off-guard. 

In reality, the text was a fake, and Eve was about to run back to her desk for nothing.  Q just hoped that her destination was across the building, so that she wouldn’t figure out the ruse too quickly.  He’d have felt bad about giving her the runaround, but the fact was, if she’d just agreed to contact James, this could have been avoided.  Plus, she was reminding him of the House, and that all on its own was enough to make Q into a defensive little monster. 

With one more warning look, Eve left.

Q, after forcing himself to calm down and reminding himself that he wasn’t a helpless tool to be ordered around and controlled anymore, went back to the computer and set off the fire alarms for good measure.  

~^~

It took about ten minutes for Q to get into trouble.  To be fair, most of that was actually spent on creating what should have been perfect timing: waiting for Eve to get some distance away before setting off the fire alarms, so she couldn’t easily come back to fetch him, then waiting a little bit longer while the alarms rang just to be sure, and finally dashing out with a seventy-five percent certainty that there would be no one actually guarding the door.  Q had judged that either A) the same distractions that Q had set up for Moneypenny would delay or chase off anyone sent to guard the hallway, or B) Moneypenny’s threats were empty ones, designed to scare Q into compliance.  Unfortunately, Q had barely sprinted out of the room and down the hallway before he realized that he’d been wrong on all counts.  Moneypenny, instead of being a bully who made hollow threats, was actually a pragmatic woman who was good on her word.  Q was willing to admit that he’d underestimated her. 

He’d also underestimated the help she’d called in, because not only was one man still guarding the hall... but there was a second one as well.  Dammit. 

The real problem was that Q didn’t see the second man immediately - in fact, he didn’t even see the first one until it was nearly too late.  Thinking that he was in the clear, Q had skidded around a corner and all but ran right into a stocky fellow in a grey-blue uniform that screamed ‘security.’  Both parties were equally surprised, although the second they locked eyes, Q saw recognition forming in the older man’s gaze: he recognized the young hacker that MI6 had lost once already.  Q recovered faster, though.  What the boffin lacked in size he knew how to make up for with speed, and instincts honed by the House kicked in in a heartbeat.  Even as he braced a hand against the guard’s chest to push himself back, Q snaked his other hand out, finding a holster exactly where his muscle-memory had told him he’d find one.  As the guard made a grab for him - a move that would quickly tip the odds in the guard’s favor, since Q didn’t have much raw strength for a brawl - Q twisted, slithering away from the seeking hands and pivoting away.

He finished his pivot immediately to face the guard again - and raised the handgun he’d taken from the man’s holster.  The safety hadn’t even slowed him down.  Shocked, the guard actually looked from the gun trained on him to his empty holster a few times, as if unable to compute how he’d lost it so quickly, and to a kid no less.  

That was when Q found out that Eve had called in two guards to stymie his escape.  

With the fire-alarm’s clarion ringing in his ears, Q almost didn’t hear the newcomer order, “Put the gun down, son!  Nobody needs to get hurt here,” but he definitely saw the second, bulldog-ish man turn the corner and join the little standoff in the hallway.  Q’s heart all but skipped a beat, and for a second he switched the direction of his gun.  The newcomer (dressed in plain clothes, perhaps an agent) had entered the hallway behind the security guard, which made aiming at him a bit tricky.  Q wasn’t quite prepared to shoot through one man to hit another, and even if he was, all it took was a bone or two getting in the way and the first man would act as a shield for the second - and the second also had a gun pointed at Q’s face.  The instant Q shifted his focus, the security guard also twitched, a subtle movement of muscle that told Q immediately that he meant to rush him.  Q halted the attempted by switching his attention back, keeping his gun trained on the unarmed security guard, who raised his hands and froze again.  

The new arrival, the maybe-agent, made a condescending clicking noise with his tongue that had Q hackling.  “Come on now, you don’t want to shoot anybody.”

“Want to bet?” Q growled, before shifting his weight and lining up his body more comfortably behind his weapon.  He knew that his stance screamed competence.  He also knew, now that he wasn’t putting on a show, that his eyes were cold and flat behind his glasses - he’d looked at himself in the mirror often enough to know how merciless the expression was.  If he’d had the faintest idea what kids his age were meant to look like, he figured that his face right now wouldn’t resemble that in the slightest. 

The fire alarm turned off.  Someone had figured out that it was a hoax, and now silence reigned like an oppressive weight.  Q considered backing up, thinking that he’d seen another exit, but he wasn’t sure.  Doors to rooms, hallways, and closets all seemed to look alike here in MI6.  

Maybe the second man wasn’t an agent, because while his eyes had narrowed a bit at Q’s body language, he hadn’t grown truly cautious.  In fact, he eased forward a step, and kept trying to cajole, “Shooting someone might seem easy, son, but it’s not.  It’s more than pulling a trigger.  You hit your target, and it’s you who’s going to hurt.”

“Joke’s on you,” Q replied back, tone flat even as his mind rapidly calculated odds and angles, “I learned that lesson years ago.”

The security guard was starting to look unsettled.  The maybe-agent, though, merely replied as if soothing a small forest animal, “You don’t mean that, kid, and even if you did, do you really think that you could hit him and then me, too, before I put a bullet in you?  I’ve got this trained right between your eyes.”

Center of mass had better odds, Q figured.  “Underestimate me.  That’ll be fun,” he growled back instead of critiquing the man’s methods.  

The new voice that entered the conversation nearly had Q jumping out of his skin, because not only was it the last voice he’d expected, but it came from behind him.  “Now that’s a phrase I think I’ve heard before,” James rumbled, sounding at once dangerous and amused.  

Even with the alarms now off, Q was shocked that he hadn’t heard the man approach; someone as big and muscled as Bond should have made more noise.  The security guard and maybe-agent seemed startled, too, but only because they hadn’t been able to see 007 until he’d rounded the corner at Q’s back.  They relaxed, no doubt recognizing an ally.  Q, meanwhile, fumed, because he was pretty sure that this meant the game was up - and he was willing to bet that James wasn’t going to forgive him for this.  The deal had been that Q would play nice and sit in MI6 and not try and escape while James was out.  Now, though, pretty much all of the evidence pointed to Q making another run for it, and he doubted that James would be terribly willing to listen to Q explain how that wasn’t exactly true.  Out of everyone that Q had met since leaving the House of the Havenots, Bond was probably the only one who appreciated exactly how good a liar Q was, which was sure to work against the boffin right now.  Angry at fate for how terribly today had gone, and frustrated beyond words at the fact that he couldn’t see a way out of this, Q clenched his teeth and tried not to tremble with rage.  He didn’t lower the gun; he didn’t plan to shoot it anymore, because there was no point, but he also intended to stay threatening until Bond bloody disarmed him by force.

“Good timing, 007,” the maybe-agent applauded, relaxing a bit but not fully lowering his weapon quite yet, “This is the little brat that everyone’s been looking for.  Somehow he stole Bart’s gun.”

“I noticed,” James drawled, drawing close enough that Q expected a hand to grab him at any moment.  Even as James came within arms’ reach, however, and Q went taut as a piano wire with expectation, nothing happened besides the agent continuing to amicably chat, “That was terribly stupid.”

The security-guard, Bart, lowered his hands just a bit and started to shamefully reply, “Well, I know, but-”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” James cut him off, smooth as ice stretching over a winter lake.  Q felt a hand on his shoulder then, but instead of yanking or clamping down, the hand kept moving until Bond had one whole arm lazily draped across Q’s collarbones.  “Q,” James said, very pleasantly, now from directly behind him, “that was very stupid.  Who told you to hesitate when you outmaneuver an opponent? You were practically asking for someone else to walk in on things.”

Q was pretty sure that his brain had just frozen up.  Ceased to compute.  The facts were all there, but made no sense.  He had 007 at his back, as close and dangerous as death breathing down the neck of a prey animal, yet it sounded unsettlingly like the man was encouraging him.  James surely wasn’t stopping Q, that was for sure, because despite his nearness, the 00-agent had yet to actually go for Q’s gun.  The drape of his arm was idle and loose, only threatening by dint of the man it was attached to.  Bart and the maybe-agent were starting to look deeply unsettled.  

“You’ve got good form,” James opined next.  He was close enough at Q’s back that the younger man could feel as Bond shifted, no doubt casting a critical eye over Q’s stance and grip.  Bond’s thumb tapped out an idle rhythm on the outer point of Q’s left clavicle.  “Pity you let Rowland get the drop on you like he did.  Were you ever going to shoot, or just keep standing here like this until you scared the security guard to death?”

“007, you bastard, stop playing around-!” Rowland, the maybe-agent, growled as he raised his gun again.  He looked far more serious now, as he sighted down the weapon and glared.

In response to the rising weapon, Bond moved at a speed that was frankly impossible.  Even though Q was close enough to feel the mass of muscle behind him move, it was barely a shiver of warning before suddenly James’ free left hand was extended alongside Q’s, bearing a competent looking Walther PPK.  When Bond spoke, it was in a far less blithe tone than before, “Just because I know your name, Rowland, doesn’t mean I give a fuck about you.”

Now the security guard looked like he was about to shit himself, and Rowland, wide-eyed, didn’t look much better.  The maybe-agent responded with surliness, though, hiding the fear after just a heartbeat or two and noting, “That’s not your dominant hand, 007.”

“Well spotted,” James drawled.  Then his voice dropped an octave to something low and lethally soothing, “Do you want to see how good I am with my left hand while the kid tries his luck with a point-blank target?  Hitting Bart should be as easy as hitting the broad side of a barn.”

Sweating now, Bart gave his raised hands a panicked little wave, “Now, just wait a minute-!”

No one expected Q to speak: “James, are you always this melodramatic?”

Silence descended.  Q was pretty sure that everyone was staring at him, although he himself had enough training to keep his eyes forward, locked on target.  Bond’s thumb stopped tapped his collarbone, though, the stillness denoting attention.  It was still a tense beat or two before the agent answered, although when he did, his tone held again that carefully crafted joviality that he’d had to start with, “Only one days that end in ‘y’.”

Q huffed out a jaded sigh that made his bangs flutter.  Deep down, though, his heart was still hammering, and he wondered if James could feel it.  

“How about this?” Bond offered.  His gun was still raised, iron-steady, and although he was aiming one-handed, Q didn’t doubt his ability to kill someone right now.  By the fact that neither Bart nor Rowland interrupted again, they didn’t doubt it either.  “I’ll stop being melodramatic if you promise to do what I say for once.”

“And what are you going to order me to do?” Q snapped back irritably even as he tensed to do whatever it was.  This felt like an olive branch, a lifeline, being offered, when all Q had expected was punishment. 

James’ voice was low and serene by his ear: “I want you to shoot out that lightbulb ahead of us as soon as I finish this sentence.”

Q was moving his arm and pulling the trigger even as the last sibilant syllable was falling out of James’ mouth.  Their section of hallway plunged into darkness as James took out a light further down, their two weapons barking out in almost deafening unison.  Q caught a fleeting image of the security guard dropping to the ground in fright to cover his head, and Rowland’s mouth opened in shock.  By the time Rowland’s gun created another roar of sound in the confined hallway, however, James’ arm had tightened and Q was being dragged bodily backwards.  He went with it, relieved beyond measure for once that he was light enough to manhandle - because it kept him free of bullet-holes.  “Come on,” James ordered breathlessly, letting go only to catch hold of Q’s shirt-collar instead and drag him towards a door that Q could have sworn led to a maintenance closet - apparently, it was an exit to a hallway.  Bond let Q move past him and then backtracked to throw the lock.  “That should slow them down,” he murmured, looking pleased.  Apparently neither Rowland nor Bart had the lockpicking skills that 007 did.  “Hurry, come on,” the agent then chivvied Q along ahead of him again, holstering his gun but seeming unconcerned with Q’s.  They were in another hallway now, and had just reached another door when they heard someone slam bodily into the one behind them.  James laughed, and Q felt a manic giggle of his own rise up behind his teeth. 

“This is insane,” Q had the urge to say between breaths as he ran to keep up with Bond’s longer legs.

The agent merely tossed back over his shoulder, “Well, you started it.  What part of ‘stay put and behave’ didn’t you understand?”

“Most all of it,” Q admitted.  A few breaths later, though, and added more seriously, “I just…  I found something, and I needed to reach you.  I asked Moneypenny to call you on the phone, but she wouldn’t.”

James angled one concerned blue eye back at Q for just a second as he ran.  “Is it serious?”

Well, to Q it was, but James’ tone actually sounded like he was concerned for Q’s wellbeing.  It was a strange thing to realize, and Q honestly wasn’t sure what to do with that kind of caring.  So he categorically ignored it.  “I found someone who actually saw Adair’s body, and has a lot more to say about it than the coroner did.”

“Is this person here?  In London?”  James sounded both interested and perplexed now.  He paused at a T intersection in the hallway, checked carefully down either side, then led them to the right and into a stairwell.  They headed upwards. 

“Yes, actually.”

“Sounds like someone was just as interested in Adair as you are, to travel all the way to South America for an autopsy,” James opined, and Q merely hummed his agreement as he hurried along behind James.  They were both taking the stairs two at a time. 

Q had thought the same thing.  “His name is John Watson,” Q freely gave out the information that he’d been so reticent to share with Moneypenny, “I want to talk to him.  Can you help me find him?”

The chuckle that echoed in the stairwell was positively devilish, and Q strongly suspected that the chaotic events of the day had been like a shot of moonshine to Bond’s system, and in no way a deterrent from further bad behavior.  “Q, I could bloody delivery him to you gift-wrapped.”

Oh god, this sounded like the start of something regrettable...  “He’s ex-military,” Q warned, hoping that that would slow the agent down.

They were still heading upwards, passing floors, although James stepped out at the next landing.  Unfortunately, he also looked back at Q with a smile like a fox in the henhouse, “Sounds like fun.”

“James…” the hacker started to warn.

But the agent interrupted him, at the same time that Q followed him out another door and realized that they were on one of the lower rooftops, “Tell me, Q, are you afraid of heights?  Or bad at jumping?”

“Fuck, why did I even ask for your help?” Q lamented even as James lead them to the edge of the rooftop, where there was an adjacent building juuuuuust close enough for someone to either leap to it… or splat against the concrete two stories below.  

“It’s either this or try to smuggle you past security again,” James explained himself, even as he put a foot against the short barrier, “And I don’t think that that would work again, now that Moneypenny’s on to us.  Which is your fault, by the way.  You could have just played nice with her.”  He beckoned for Q’s gun, snapping his fingers and then pointing to the second, empty holster at his side.  Q lacked a means of carrying a weapon, unless he wanted to stick it down his pants and risk blowing off something important.  

Q was faintly surprised that James was still working to keep Q out of MI6’s hands.  He nearly opened his mouth to ask if the agent would get fired over this, then snapped his teeth shut, not wanting to press his luck.  “Stop talking and just jump, 007.  I’ll be right behind you,” Q snapped back primly instead, eyeing the distance and thanking all the gods he could think of that he’d had any fear of heights knocked out of him by the House.  Along with a lot of other perfectly normal fears.  He handed over his purloined weapon without protest, watching as James holstered it.

It seemed like Bond also lacked a lot of perfectly normal fears, because with merely a grunt and a nod of assent, he then backed off, gave himself a short, explosive running start, and was soaring over the gap with a frankly appalling lack of hesitation.  Q told himself that he didn’t care if the agent got hurt, but he still found that he didn’t move or breathe until James was landing in a roll on the opposite roof.  He moved with the kind of practice that said he did this often.  “Easy,” was James’ assessment once he regained his feet again.  The air was chilly up here, and his breath plumed in front of a brilliant smile.  “Surely a little rabbit like you could do it.”

“ ‘Rabbit’ me one more time, and I’ll walk right back into MI6 and tell them how you aided and abetted me - a criminal,” Q snarked back on reflex even as he backed up and tested his footing.  James had said it was easy, true, but Q was shorter, and not actually a rabbit born for jumping.  Still, after settling his glasses a bit more firmly on his nose, making one last judgment call on the distance, and telling himself that James wouldn’t set him up to fail… Q made a sprint for the edge.

And leapt out over the gap.  

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

Bond’s first thought was, ‘Oh, shit, he actually jumped.’

His second thought was, ‘I really need to stop underestimating this kid.’  Q’s habit of challenging people to underestimate him was something that James would have to take seriously in the future, but now all the agent could do was rush forward and catch the kid by the arms as Q just barely cleared he gap - and nearly overbalanced backwards in the split-second it took Bond to grab him.  Stumbling forward and away from the edge this time, Q tipped into James’ chest, spindly limbs flailing for a second before instinctively clinging to the solid object in front of them. 

“I’m all right!  I’m all right!” Q declared breathlessly, even as he imitated Velcro for a few hammering heartbeats more.  And James let him, for not other reason than because he was beginning to realize how stupid that whole plan had been.  To put it simply, James was not used to his own recklessness affecting others.  Now he looked past Q’s fluffy head of hair and stared at the two-story drop, imagining Q not making it.  

Before Bond could think too hard on that, Q regained his equilibrium and straightened - and his face, instead of holding fear or fury over his near-death experience at Bond’s behest, was creased with a nearly manic smile.  He looked back at the gap, let go of James’ shirt to straighten his glasses, and then said with particular emphasis, “Fuck.”  James had never heard that word said with such contentedness and glee rather than anger or exasperation.

For a second, the agent wasn’t sure how to react. He ended up barking out a laugh that sounded more like a cough, and chiding, “Language,” before remembering that they had trouble on their heels.  “Come on, Superman, you might be leaping buildings in a single bound, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of trouble yet.” 

Still looking like he’d just had the rush of his life, Q nodded wordlessly and was on Bond’s heels like his own shadow.  Getting away from MI6 and slipping back into the thicket that was London was pretty easy from there on out and required no speaking: James led, and Q followed.  Any unease James had felt about dragging someone else into his insane plans was balanced by how seamlessly the young hackered worked with him now - it was like having a hunting partner.  A runty one, but a good one that neither tripped him up nor asked pointless questions.  For all that Q could be as hissy as a young viper sometimes, and could produce a level of backtalk that was frankly impressive, he apparently knew when to just be quiet and trust in Bond’s judgment… even when that judgment had just asked him to literally jump off a roof.  Yeah, James was still coming to terms with how he felt about that. 

Thirty minutes later found them piling into the back of their third taxi, panting slightly and still thrumming with adrenaline.  It was only then that James really looked at Q and realized that he yet again wasn’t dressed for the cold weather.  This was beginning to become a habit.  After giving their driver the address, James added, “And turn the heat up, would you?” before sitting back. 

Q hummed in contentment and closed his eyes as the first puff of warmer air ballooned back to them.  “Back to yours?” Q asked, cracking one eye open to fix James with a questioning look.  He’d picked up on the address, and even if he’d not been awake the last time they’d entered Bond’s flat, he’d been awake when leaving it this morning.

“Indeed,” James acknowledged, “I might no longer have a laptop there for you to work on, but I figure it’ll be a good place to regroup.  It’s off the radar.”  Before Q could ask questions about just why James didn’t trust MI6 with the location of his home (which would force Bond to then explain that he had more than one… but had still taken Q to his most secret one), the agent went on with a meaningful look, “And it’ll be the perfect place for you to explain yourself in detail.”

Both of Q’s eyes opened and he flushed, looking uncomfortable.  It could have been an act, of course, but James’ instincts told him that Q was sincerely embarrassed for once.  Eartips red and mouth twisted in a frown, the kid looked down at his lap and James took pity on him, adding, “And from there I think I have a few ideas about how to find this Watson fellow of yours.”

The hacker’s head shot back up, and he looked a lot more positive.  There was even something like a tiny flicker of hope in his hazel eyes, and for some reason that warmed James in a way that no amount of praise over a successful mission ever had.

And then his phone started ringing, ruining the mood entirely.  

“Goddammit,” James muttered without any real heat behind it, because he’d been expecting this.  He fished the phone out of his pocket and answered it only because he knew that his latest stunt was actually worse than his last one - and if MI6 hadn’t declared him rogue before, they just might do it now.  “I’m sorry, but you've reached an imaginary number. Please rotate your phone ninety degrees and try again,” he said as soon as he answered the call.  Q’s eyebrows winged upwards and even the cab-driver heard enough to flash a surprised look in the rearview mirror. Everything said up until now had seemed relatively benign, but this was weird.  James just smiled a thin smile and waited to for the berations to start, since he didn’t think that hanging up was actually an option this time.  

“I’ll rotate you ninety degrees,” came Moneypenny’s snarled response, and James winced.  At least it wasn’t M herself ringing him up, but to be fair, Moneypenny’s temper was nothing to joke about either.  Q, bless his twisted little heart, was looking torn between worried and amused, and the cab-driver himself was doing a poor job of hiding his eavesdropping.  James spared a second to at least slide the little partition closed between the front and back of the cab, but that still left him with an avidly watching baby hacker.  And Moneypenny wasn’t done yet: “And have you fitted for a pine box!”  She sounded very sincere.  “Bond, what the absolute fuck was all that about?  I just finished talking to Jake-!”

“Who’s Jake?” James asked - not unreasonably, he thought.  Although he guessed a moment later, “Oh, you mean Bart?”

“No, I mean Rowland! Jake Rowland!”

“Never heard of him.”  James sank back against the seat but then pulled his ear away from the phone as he was treated to what could only be called a screech.  He wasn’t entirely sure what Moneypenny said, but he could tell that it wasn’t nice.  Q was watching now with Cheshire amusement, one hand loosely held over his mouth as if that could hide his smile.  

“Eve,” James tried to slow the other MI6 employee down, “Eve, I’m in public.  And there are delicate ears listening.”  Bond flicked his gaze over to Q, who suddenly went from smirking to glowering behind his hand, if the sudden, flat look of his eyes was any indication.  

Surprisingly, Moneypenny also seemed to realize that James was referring to the boffin.  “If you mean that cheeky little hacker of yours, then don’t even bother.  I’ve fallen for his angelic facade for the last time.”  She seemed to pause, considering, and then added, “I hope he stabs you with a fork the next time you try and pat his head, by the way.”

“Now, come on, Eve, that’s just spiteful,” James chided.  

Q muttered from Bond’s left, apparently listening in, “I’m at least classy enough to pick a better utensil than that.  A proper butter-knife, for example.”  James tried to elbow him, but the kid dodged with a willowy twist of his body. 

Moneypenny had finally spent enough of her anger to finally get down to business.  “Now spill, Bond.  I don’t care of you’re in public; I want you to tell me right now just what kind of game you think you’re playing, because now you’ve gotten me involved, and M’s breathing down my neck.”

James sat up a bit, perking up and seeing a silver lining to getting Moneypenny so tangled up in this.  “Are you covering for me?” he hazarded. 

There was a soft growl on the other end of the line, then a “No,” but the answer came too slowly.  James grinned, pleased. 

“Thank you, Eve.  I owe you one.”

“I didn’t say that I was-!”

Cutting her off, James did at least have the good sense to give her a bit more information: “Q’s with me, and he’s promised that he’ll help me take down the House of the Havenots, so we’ll be back when we have more to report.”  Then he hung up and turned his phone on silent, because while he knew that he had to give Eve some information to avoid being fired and/or permanently eliminated, that didn’t mean he wanted to have a long-winded discussion on exactly what he was doing.

By this point, Q was just staring at him in wonder.  His only comment, however, was a sarcastic, “I promised that, did I?”

“Well, you did say that for every bit of help I offered you, you’d tell me more information about yourself,” James shrugged, sticking his phone back in his pocket where he wouldn’t notice people trying to call him again and again and again.  “I figure that that’s pretty much the same thing - especially since I think I’m due a bit more information now.  So spill, Q.”

~^~

When Q had first made that deal with James, he’d had every intention of dodging his end of it.  Sure, he’d give out scraps - but what he gave out would be so detached and sterilized that it would really have nothing to do with him.  And surely James just wanted to know about the House, right?  Q had no compunctions about spreading every single one of their secrets, so it was perfect, really: Q got the help of a world-class 00-agent, and in return, he gave out information that cost him nothing.  

That had all changed, though, when Q had seen proof that James really was on his side.  Just now, back at MI6, Q had messed up - not by hesitating with a gun in his hands, as James had berated him for, but for clearly disobeying Bond’s orders.  If Bond had been one of Q’s House handlers, there would have been hell to pay for that.  Disobedience was punished.  Instead, James had supported him, even though he didn’t know the full story yet.  Q had honestly barely expected James to forgive him after hearing the details of the situation, if he’d even been given the chance to explain. 

So now, as the cab rumbled along and with a pair of blue eyes patiently watching him, Q found himself tongue-tied, his previously planned responses lodged somewhere in his chest.  “I’ll…” he started, then stopped, recovering as smoothly as he could, “I’ll tell you about my time at the House.”  Q found himself fixating on his ill-fitting sleeve, plucking at it for a second more before finding another delaying tactic, “But is there any chance we could find me some better clothes first?”

Surprisingly, Bond went for that.  After eyeing Q for an uncomfortable few seconds, the man leaned forward and slid the partition open, speaking to the driver quickly - redirecting them, it seemed, to a nearby mall.  Once they had privacy again, partition closed, James replied easily, “I suppose the last place MI6 will expect us to be is dawdling around shopping.  You’ll owe me another fact for the favor, though.”  He tipped his head to look at Q under his eyebrows, an ‘am I making myself clear?’ kind of expression. 

Q nodded rapidly, because he was simply glad for the extra time to get his thoughts in order.  He’d told MI6 all manner of things about the House, but what he’d told them and what he felt compelled to tell Bond now were two very different things.

~^~

Q was so distracted that he barely remembered the shopping trip.  He knew that he had a habit of hyperfocusing like this, to the exclusion of the world around him - it was as much as blessing as a curse, according to his handlers at the House.  It meant that Q could latch onto a task with unparalleled fervor, and not be distracted by anything until it was done, but it also technically meant that he could become painfully oblivious to dangers around him.  Thankfully, the mall was not loaded with enemy operatives - or if it was, James artfully avoided them all, keeping Q in tow.  Q didn’t try anything on except a few pairs of shoes, yet somehow he had two bags of clothes in his lap by the time they were in another cab and headed back to James’ flat.  James didn’t ask him anything the whole way, simply lounged in the seat, taking up too much space and humming a tune Q didn’t know the name of.  Somehow, both the taking up of space (Bond’s arm was on the seat behind Q’s head) and the humming were calming. 

By the time they entered Bond’s flat, Q was feeling just a bit more follected.  Removing shoes and coat, Q retreated to the far end of the sofa, distractedly digging through the bag of clothes until he found a black pullover to tug on over the shirt he was already wearing.  Only after he got it on did he realize that it said in white text “I’m trying to be independent but no one will HELP ME.”  Q sighed and thumped his head against the back of the sofa, realizing that this is what he got for not paying attention to what clothes James had bought him.  He purposefully put the rest on the nearby coffee table before he could see what other surprises the bag held. 

Bond put the kettle on before joining Q on the sofa, and while his mouth twitched at the sight of the pullover, he didn’t comment.  Sprawling back on the couch, he reached out and taught a lock of Q’s hair, giving it a light tug, before Q could bat his hand away.  “Your turn, Q.  I’ve been helpful, now it’s your turn to pay the ferryman.”

Part of Q wanted to ask why James hadn’t demanded information before now, since by this point, Q had pretty much lost track of just how much he owed ‘the ferryman.’  The more Q thought back, the more he realized the agent had done for him, all with shockingly little hesitation.  Q… wasn’t used to that.  There was a catch to it all, of course, but even as he contemplated spilling his guts to a 00-agent, Q felt like he’d gotten off lightly.  He tucked his socked feet up under him on the couch and crossed his arms over his stomach, knowing that he was forecasting defensive body language but not caring.  He did pause a moment, glancing warily over at Bond and waiting for the man to call him on it.

The agent didn’t.  Instead, he blinked back benignly, the rest of him unmoving.

So Q took a breath, held it, and then forced himself to speak on the exhale, “It wasn’t until I was thirteen and taken out on my first mission that I realized I hadn’t been raised like a normal child.”  All of that came out in one breath.  He glanced at Bond again, bracing himself for shock, derision, something… but got nothing.  Just the continuance of 007’s watchful regard.  It flustered Q a little, because since the age of thirteen, he’d learned that his entire childhood was abhorrent to normal people.  

Then it hit Q.

James wasn’t exactly ‘normal people.’  

Something in Q un-knotted and relaxed, even as he felt his expectations get rattled.  He no longer knew how this conversation was going to go.  He went on tentatively now, watching James steadily for any reaction, to gauge what these stories would mean to a man who was a trained assassin-spy, “On that first mission, I was told to pretend that I was lost, and then lead a woman back to my handler.  Only later did I realize that it was a test - if I’d failed, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.  Maybe more training, or maybe I wouldn’t be here now.  I don’t know what happened to the woman.”

James did speak up then, but only to ask a question that Q wasn’t prepared for: “Do you think she was planted?”

Jarred and off-balance, Q pushed his glasses up his nose and pursed his lips for a moment, before answering haltingly, “I-I’m not sure.”

“Usually, on a test-mission like that, the target is a plant,” James said with an easy confidence that settled something in Q’s gut, “Your handlers want conditions to be as controlled as possible, so that they can accurately gauge how you’re doing.  So, chances are high that that woman was part of the House of the Havenots, there to help test your budding skills.”

Q puffed out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.  “That… makes sense,” he allowed. 

With merely a nod, James subsided again.  He rolled on hand in a beckoning motion, silently urging Q to continue.  This time, it was easier to get his mouth working - in fact, the words were almost eager to come out, now that he’d seen that he would be understood, “Up until that point, I’d thought that it was all normal - that all children were raised as we were.  The House was larger then, with more kids like me - more ‘Havenots’.”  Q smiled bitterly at the memory of the title. 

“MI6 did a number on the House at some point,” James concurred, once again breaking into Q’s narrative without questioning or judging it.  “Clearly, we didn’t take the head off the snake, but we at least chopped off a good portion of its tail.”  Only then did James tilt his head and ask with lowered brows, “If you thought that everything was normal up until that point, when did you realize that you’d had a life before that?”

The memories were more raw than Q had expected them to be.  He wrapped his arms more tightly around his middle, feeling his own ribs press against his fingertips as he breathed.  “The first time I heard a British accent,” he said, eyes looking down at Bond’s left knee instead of his face.  It made dredging up the memory moderately easier, even though Q could have sworn he’d already come to terms with all of this.  “Until then, I’d always known that I had a different accent than everyone - for some reason, even though I picked up other languages and was living in South America, I never quite lost my British accent - but I’d never thought much of it.  After hearing someone else speak the same way, though, I started remembering things.”  Well, more like ‘thing’ singular, since Q really only had the one solid memory.  Everything else was just… impressions.  A deep and growing sense of wrongness.  Q shuddered, having not expected to relive that moment of realization so vividly.

Suck it up, Q,’ he told himself firmly, and then dragged in air and braced himself to give James another fact in trade for his helpfulness - but then the agent abruptly stood up.  The kettle had started boiling, its shrill whistle hitting the air when James was halfway to it.  Q realized that this was only a momentary reprieve, but he nonetheless sagged back against the couch, feeling wrung out already.  

Unexpectedly, though, James called from the kitchen, “Make your tea however you want it.  I’ve got some phone calls to make.”

Caught off-guard, Q stood slowly, guessing, “To MI6?”  God knew the man was in hot water with his employers, so a few placating phone calls would be a wise move.

Unfortunately, Bond was neither normal nor wise.  The blond-haired man shook his head, preparing his own tea while placing a second mug on the counter for Q.  “No point in calling them again until I have something to show for it.  I was actually going to see if a contact of mine is in town.  He’s a sick bastard, but he knows everything that goes on in London.”

“And that will help you get information to take down the House?”  Q still wasn’t following.  Usually, it was Q’s brain that was taking leaps that others couldn’t follow; right now, though, James’ ideas were as convoluted as tree roots.  Q was also distracted by the mug he’d been given, which when he turned it, had the Subway logo, but then the phrase, “We stuff our Subs with love!” in what looked to be handwritten text.  Q had the feeling that if he thought about it hard enough, he’d understand the joke hidden here, but he didn’t think he wanted to.  He was still making a dubious expression as he allowed James to fill his mug with steaming water, not questioning the fact that he trusted the man with scalding liquid so close to his precious, hacker hands.  Usually, Q didn’t trust anyone with anything around his hands.  

“Actually, I was hoping it would be the easiest and fastest way to find this Watson fellow, since we’re on a bit of a tight schedule, what with MI6’s knickers in a twist, and you without a laptop to work your magic,” James answered, again surprising Q.  James appeared not to notice the hazel eyes that were now staring at him in bewilderment, instead idly going through the motions of finding what tea he wanted, finding a container of honey first and setting it by Q without so much as a glance.  “If we go see Spall in person, we might even get some leads that we can follow right away, and save some time.”

“So, wait…”  Q’s brain was trying to catch up, putting pieces together even if the outcome didn’t make sense to him.  He ignored the tea and just stood there with his suspiciously-labeled mug full of hot water, “I told you just one random thing about my shitty childhood, and now we’re going to go hunt down Watson?”

“That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”  James had found the tea he wanted, and prepared it calmly even as Q grew more agitated.

“Yes, but…”  Q set his mug down, making a small, involuntary growling noise of exasperated confusion.  “But that’s really a fair trade for you?”

“What can I say?  I’m easy.”

Bullshit,” Q snarled, and finally James stopped making tea and turned to look at him.  His eyes were like pale-blue chips of glass, sharp and crystalline.  The emotions behind them were suddenly shuttered, and Q drew back marginally, realizing that he’d just metaphorically bitten the hand that fed him.  James didn’t do anything else, though - just shifted his body so that he was facing Q, one hip against the counter, folding his arms in a posture that said he was clearly just waiting for what Q wanted to do next.  Caught out and uncomfortable with the agent just watching him like that, Q fisted his hands at his sides and worked his jaw a little, as if that would help him find the words he wanted.  It still took a bit before he filled the silence in a low voice, “You and I are alike.  We’re survivors.  We’re cons.  We’re pragmatic.  We’re not altruistic and we don’t just do good things.”  That last part was surprisingly hard to say, because as much as Q had accepted it as fact, he still realized how wrong it was.  Good people did good things.  He didn’t - and he didn’t think Bond did either.  He refused to break eye-contact, however, as he continued to accuse, “So cut the shit and tell me what you really want in return for your help.”

For a moment, there was no response.  Bond didn’t move so much as a muscle.  The man’s talent at staying still was nearly as disturbing as his ability to cause trouble.  However, after the slowest count of five seconds in Q’s recent memory, James pushed off the counter so that he stood to his full height.  Q reflexively withdrew a step, crouching a little and shifting his weight evenly between both feet - a fighter’s wary stance.  After all the time he’d spent around 007, he wasn’t really sure how a fight between them would turn out.  On the one hand, Q had a decent sense of how James moved, and Q was good at predicting people’s moves based on past observations - on the other hand, all of those past observations had shown Q that James was damn dangerous.  Q could take down people bigger than himself; size wasn’t the issue.  It all came down to whether or not Q’s opponent knew how to use their size and strength, and it was pretty clear that James did.  So when James took a lazy step forward, Q treated it like a lion advancing, and backed up just a bit more.  

His hand itched for the mug of hot water it had held, but the second his pinky finger so much as twitched towards where he’d set it down on the counter, James growled, “Don’t even think about it, Q.  I’m not going to attack you, but throw hot water at me, and I guarantee you’ll have a fight on your hands.” 

Mostly, it was the middle part of that statement that Q was still stuck on - the ‘not going to attack you’ part.  James seemed to mean it, too - his expression showed annoyance but nothing more.  It could all have been a lie, of course, but Q liked to think he was good at seeing through those.  He stood up a bit straighter and stopped thinking about throwing scalding water in James’ face. 

~^~

It almost physically hurt James to realize how well he understood Q.  Not only the backstory about his training, but now, as he watched Q slip into a fighting stance and make the most infinitesimal twitch towards the nearest weapon - it wasn’t even a true motion, it was just…  It was just something that James would have done.  That fact that James was seeing these familiarities in the body of a teenager was the heartbreaking part, because James had had quite a few more years to reach this paranoid, violent point in life.  Q, on the other hand, hadn’t had anything else.  

And now, to make matters harder, James didn’t know how to put Q’s mind at ease.  In fact, James wasn’t even sure how to explain himself, period, because he honestly had no idea why he was letting Q off so easy.  After all that James had already done for the kid, MI6 was probably going to fire him at best, yet he barely even made the kid sing for his supper before he was offering to help him yet again.  

What the fuck is wrong with me?’ James asked himself, but since no answer was forthcoming, he was left with nothing but a very handshy, distrustful kid glaring at him and no believable explanation in sight.  Maybe he should have just let Q throw the mug at him; then at least things would have devolved into a clean and simple fight.  James was nothing if not light on his feet, though, and after a moment was able to find an answer that was not actually a lie, but which he suspected was only a fraction of the truth buried behind his heart somewhere, “You’re saying that I’m not getting a return on my investment, and you’re right.”  Q’s eyes flashed with something that was both bitter and triumphant, both pleased and displeased at being proven right.  Therefore, James was happy to add, “But you’re only thinking short-term.”

“What do you mean?”  The wariness was back.  Canny hazel eyes had narrowed behind Q’s spectacles.  

“I mean,” James said with a smile, “that I’m an old dog with old tricks already, and I can see that you’re going places.  Is it so wrong to want to be on the good side of a hacker who can get into the computer systems of multiple secret agencies?”

James could see that he’d successfully appealed to Q’s vanity in the way the kid stood up straighter again, like a peacock shuffling its tail before unfurling it.  Q kept his eyes narrowed, of course, tipping his head so that he was all but looking down his nose at Bond, but the agent preferred a haughty Q to the distrustful, hurt one of a moment earlier.  This Q made James grin.  “It’s only been confirmed that I hacked MI6,” Q maintained staunchly.

“You keep telling yourself that, Q.  Now, are we done here?”

“Yes,” he sniffed, having completely switched from angry to arrogant, his spine straight and his posture almost lazy now - purposefully so, James suspected, to make up for his previous show of fearful tension.  “I suppose you can go call your shady people now.”

Bond couldn’t help but snort quietly, even as he pulled out his phone.  Ignoring the three missed calls from MI6, he started dialing another number even as he muttered, “Mouthy little shit.”

Q just smiled and went back to grab the bag of new clothes, taking his new things into the bathroom to go through it all properly.

 

 

Chapter Text

~^~

By the time they left the house, Q had changed clothes completely.  He hadn’t needed to, and James didn’t know if this was odd for a youth his age, but considering Q’s upbringing and lack of personal belongings up until now… James figured it would be best not to comment.  So with James in dark jeans, black pullover, and a warm, well-worn leather jacket and Q in jeans of his own that made his skinny legs look even longer, a T-shirt that said “No, I will not fix your computer” (and made him look like he had even more of an attitude problem than he already had), and an anorak, the two once again ventured out into the world.  James’ contact, Gregorius Spall, lived on the seedier side of London, but James found a way to detour through some of the more interesting parts of the city so that Q could maybe enjoy it a bit. If nothing else, the kid certainly appreciated the little cafe they eventually ducked inside - because James was hungry, and he figured that even stroppy little hackers needed feeding, especially as they waited for Spall to do his job.  James always had to call Spall ahead of time, ask his question, and then actually talk to him sometime later after an answer had been rooted up.  In the meanwhile, Q tore his way right through his own food and part of James’, stealing with an unashamed ease that somehow reassured Bond that Q had forgiven him a bit for their previous spat        

A lot more walking and a cab ride later, and they were in a part of town where many people would have to watch themselves.  The shadows were starting to lengthen, and James kept a wary eye out, noting that Q unconsciously mimicking his body language.  Smart kid.  Unfortunately, smarts wouldn’t change the fact that Q was still just a leggy teenager, and not a particularly muscular one, so it was fortunate that the hacker also had the good sense to stick close as they made their way to a bar that Spall had agreed to meet at.  Regardless of how formidable Q actually was, he looked like an easy target.

“Spall isn’t one for strangers or surprises, but I warned him that I’d be bringing you along,” James explained as they approached the place.  The sign was so old and worn that it was illegible, but anyone who knew it just called it “Sam’s Place.”

“So you want me to stay quiet and pretend I don’t exist?” Q guessed, raising his eyebrows.  

James tossed him a smile and ruffled his hair.  “You catch on fast!”  James was unable to move fast enough to completely avoid Q’s retaliatory rabbit-punch to his ribs, but he twisted away enough to weather it, and was still smiling as he led the way into Sam’s Place.   

The place was mostly empty, but would fill up more as the day ended, and would probably start smelling worse, too.  The smell of bad ale was mixed with vomit, body odour, and the stench of mildewed rags, and James didn’t miss the way Q’s nose wrinkled fastidiously.  James himself had been in far worse places, although even he had to admit that Sam’s Place was probably only still open because its owner ran illegal gambling in the back.  Gregorius Spall was in the front, though, and already there.

Spall had perhaps once been a man of average to good looks, and was still built like his body remembered being athletic.  A long, beakish nose overshadowed a slash of a mouth and a bristly but defined jaw, all above a body that was putting on a bit of weight.  There was still muscle beneath, however, and James had heard stories of Spall messing people up - although, generally, those stories seemed to involve people smaller or weaker than Spall.  Men like him had trouble picking on people their own size.  Still, even if James could probably take the man in a fight, he’d realized early on that he had to stay on the man’s good side, if only for the information that he could provide.  Experience had taught James a lot about necessary evils.  “Good evening, Spall,” James greeted congenially, approaching the bar and sitting in a stool next to the other man, but making no move to extend a hand for shaking.  James tracked Q only out of his peripheral vision, keeping his eyes trained on Spall, as one predator would carefully inspect another.  Q slipped quietly into the seat on Bond’s other side, doing a good job of being an inconspicuous little shadow, even if more than a few curious eyes in the bar had already started following him.

Spall himself had clearly noticed, as his first sentences to James were: “Well, well, Mr. Bond!  I didn’t realize that your tastes ran towards twinks!  When you mentioned you wouldn’t be alone, I wasn’t expecting such a young little pretty.”

Out of the corner of his eye, James saw how Q’s head snapped around towards them, although James didn’t have the luxury of checking whether Q was spooked or angered by the comment - or if he understood the implications of it in full.  The agent kept his eyes on Spall, who was smiling.  In all honesty, James should have expected this, but he’d gotten so used to thinking of Q’s company as…  What did he see Q as?  He certainly was growing to appreciate the kid’s various skills, so ‘hunting partner’ was probably the most appropriate term.  To have someone label Q as nothing more than a fucktoy sparked a kernel of hot anger behind James’ breastbone.

Unfortunately, defending Q in public wasn’t going to get them anywhere.  James knew that the comment had been meant to get a rise out of him; James was enough of a predator to know a baited trap when he saw one.  So James merely put on his most wintry, insincerely smile and replied lowly and calmly, “I didn’t mention more details about him because your business is with me.  I have questions, and if you have answers, I also have money for you.” James let his smile slip from chilly into frostbite levels, knowing that it would be echoed in his eyes like an arctic sea reflecting winter skies.  “Unless you wish to rework the details of our agreement?”

Now James was the one baiting the trap.  He could see by Spall’s expression that he was actually a bit torn - knowing that he was being blatantly lured into something dangerous, but still sensing some possibility of reward for himself.  By the way the man’s eyes kept dancing past James’ shoulder and presumably towards Q, that reward was probably Q himself.  To keep himself outwardly still and calm, James mentally counted the number of knives on his own person, grounding himself by the feeling of them tucked in various places against his body.  It was good that James carried an honestly obscene number of knives, because it took quite a bit of counting before he quieted the roaring anger in his ears.

By which point Spall had also come to a wise decision, turning his eyes from Q back to James and saying with a bit of a pinched look, “Of course not, Mr. Bond.  I’ve long appreciated our mutually beneficial agreement.”

James didn’t relax.  He didn’t relax because he’d never tensed up - that was something only youngsters in this game did.  Instead, James allowed his smile to become a bit warmer (but not any more real), and he replied with all geniality, “Splendid,” and then began the usual useless banter that was always necessary to wheedle information out of Spall.  Many people like Spall, who were ultimately criminals, liked to be treated as if they were gentlemen, and became absolutely intractable if not treated to small talk and other niceties.

It was about at the point where Spall graciously offered to buy James a drink (as he always did, in anticipation of James more than paying him back at the conclusion of their dealings) that the 00-agent noticed someone else in the bar getting closer - perhaps getting a drink themselves.  It would be uncouth for James to turn and assess the situation like a paranoiac, but since James was having to look out for someone other than himself, he was torn.  He didn’t want to misstep in the little dance with Spall, but he also didn’t like the possibility of someone messing with Q, who this whole time had been sitting close and quiet behind James’ right shoulder.

Before James could worry too long, fortunately, he felt Q’s body shift subtly against his, and then deft, slim fingers sliding into one of James' pockets.  A beat later and there was a soft shush of a knife being pulled free of its hidden sheath, and then a meaty thud followed by a scream.  Only then did James turn, along with everyone else in the room… to see that Q had skewered someone’s hand to the bar.  

The bartender had wisely made himself scarce, but everyone else - Spall included - was tense and wide-eyed, having clearly not expected this outcome.  The man who’d been stabbed was still in shock, staring at the knife, which was slim and small but nonetheless sharpened to razor keenness, as Bond made a point of never being caught dead with a dull knife.  Q, for his part, was now sitting prim and proper facing his victim, although James caught sight of the look of quiet fury beneath a pompous exterior.  What had James fighting a smile, however, was the fact that Q looked peeved rather than scared.  

Aware that everyone was watching them, dead-silent as they tried to decide how to react, James put on a theatrical sigh.  Swiveling fully in his barstool, he placed one hand on Q’s shoulder, then used his other hand to reach past Q and yank the knife out of flesh and wood.  It took more strengthen James had expected; Q had really rammed the blade home.  He gave Q’s shoulder a little tap with his thumb, impressed.  “Really now, didn’t I tell you to behave?” James chided as if this were all normal.

Q, without missing a beat, played along.  He quickly defended, “You never expressly told me not to stab impertinent people.”

“But surely I’ve told you not to play with your food,” James sighed, as the stabbed individual quickly backed away with a piteous whine.  His hand was dripping blood after him despite how he clutched at it.  In a tone pitched so that everyone would pick up on it, James went on, “First that security guard you scared half to death, and now this.”  Instead of re-sheathing the knife, James let it settle on the bar with a little clunk, next to Q.  “Do finish the job next time, would you?” he requested in a put-upon voice.

Q turned a bit at that point, enough to catch James’ eye for a faint, questioning look - he was checking if James meant it.  James merely quirked his eyebrows, putting on a, ‘Why wouldn’t I mean it?’ expression that for once was completely guileless.  There was no one in this room that he’d mind Q murdering.  He did feel the need to add, however, even as he turned to put his back to Q again and face Spall, “Just remember: your kill, your clean-up.”

They were sitting close enough that James felt the little quiver of Q’s body that said he was suppressing laughter, even if his voice gave none of that away, “I suppose that’s only fair.”

Eye-to-eye with James again, Spall looked… decidedly disturbed.  Good.  He deserved to be.  James just continued smiling as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had occurred, although he did comment melodramatically, “Such atrocious company you keep, Mr. Spall.  You don’t think that man was contemplating taking advantage of my young companion, do you?”

“That ruffian isn’t with me,” Spall hurried to defend himself.  His eyes flicked past James to Q, but instead of looking lecherous like before, he looked worried.  James strongly suspected that Q was using a bar napkin to clean blood off his small but dangerous knife - a fitting weapon for a small but dangerous person.  Eyes back on James, Spall finished his statement, “I don’t even know him.”

“Hmm,” James hummed, lowering his lids to half-mast and crafting his expression into something lazy and bored, “And here I thought you knew everyone.”  He even leaned back slightly for effect, one arm draped on the bar.  Purely coincidentally, this allowed him to feel Q behind him: his slight but steady presence, the constantly shifting movements of Q’s arm and shoulder as he worked to return Bond’s knife to pristine cleanness.  “So which is it, Spall?” James hardened his voice and dropped the honorific ‘Mister’ to speak more plainly.  “Do you know everyone, or are you not as useful to me as you always say you are?”

Clearly flustered now, Spall nonetheless read the increased deadliness in James’ eyes and voice, and managed to come up with the only correct answer to that question: a polite “I know the people you need to me to know, Mr. Bond.”

“Good.  Then tell me what you know about a Dr. John Watson, and where I can find him.”

~^~

Spall had actually known a shocking amount about the man.  Usually, when James asked questions on short notice like this, the initial answer tended to be rather brief, and he had to come back later for more, after giving Spall more monetary incentive and additional time.  It seemed that this Watson fellow got around, though - mostly in the company of a man much disliked by the criminal elements, a fellow called Sherlock Holmes.  While Spall gave out information about Watson easily, his lip curled as he spoke of Watson’s companion.  Apparently Holmes saw himself as something of a detective, and he’d actually succeeded in making the lives of quite a few criminals difficult.  In all honesty, Spall seemed more eager to talk about Holmes than Watson, in the same way that most small men were eager to complain about people who had inconvenienced them.  

“Would you believe that Holmes prick has been a pain in my arse since he was just a brat?” Spall was gesticulating angrily now, and the incident with Q seemed to have been forgotten.  Spall had also started drinking more determinedly - although whether or not the increased liquor had to do with his apparent hatred of Sherlock Holmes, or the revelation that Q was actually dangerous, James wasn’t sure.  “That’s practically since the start of my career as an information broker! Holmes started co-opting parts of my information network back when he should have been more worried about school and puberty!”

“And Watson?” James prompted, wanting to stay on track.  While he found the stories about Sherlock Holmes fascinating, he was here because Q wanted him to track down John Watson.  Too many distractions and Q was liable to stab him with that knife.

Spall waved a hand as if brushing aside flies, then took another heavy chug of what passed as liquor at Sam’s Place.  “Oh, he came around after Sherlock’s dry spell.  The Holmes brat went quiet for a few years, and then came back - although at least he came back reckless as all bloody hell.”  Another swig, this time followed by a belch.  The fact that Spall’s faked manners were slipping was a sign that he was getting truly drunk, but also probably a sign that he was giving out information sincerely.  James settled in to listen with a resigned sigh, while also wondering if Q would agree to coming with him more often, to traumatize the truth out of people.  “Me and mine were actually hoping that he’d get himself killed, but then this John Watson fellow appeared in his life.”  Spall’s glower said how little he appreciated this, even as he sneered, “Apparently having a doctor in his life has straightened Sherlock out some, although my sources in the drug community say that there’s still hope that he’ll overdose one of these days.”

“As fascinating as this is,” James reminded, “I came here in hopes of learning where I can locate this John Watson.”  He drummed the fingers of one hand lightly against the bartop, next to the drink he hadn’t touched in ages.  The tapping, like everything else James did, was calculated - he wanted to show Spall how impatient he was getting.  In reality, James had lived too long as an ambush predator to ever grow fidgety.  He could feel Q tensing behind him, however, like a bowstring quietly thrumming for lack of an arrow, hating its own stillness.

Spall eyed him for a second.  “Any chance we could exchange my usual fee for you siccing your little wildcat on Sherlock instead?” he proposed in what sounded like an honestly hopeful tone.

“How about I leave my payment on the bar as usual, my wildcat and I leave, and you text me John Watson’s location within the next thirty minutes?” James decided instead, standing abruptly.  Despite all of the patience at his disposal, he was getting sick of this game - and by how swiftly Q stood with him, the feeling was mutual.  “If this Sherlock character ends up getting stabbed in the process, consider it a bonus.”  With that, James pulled an envelope of cash from his coat, slapped it onto the bar, and sauntered out of Sam’s Place with all the nonchalance of a cat exiting a scene of a crime.  He did check behind him, subtly, to be sure that Q wasn’t held up - he needn’t have worried, though.  The young hacker was walking with knife bared at his side, the barely-leashed look of impatience on his facing saying loud and clear that he’d cut a bitch.  Wisely, no one made a move as James and Q went on their merry way.

~^~

Previously

~^~

When he came back from Afghanistan, John Watson knew he had scars: bullet wounds in his right knee and left shoulder, leaving him with a limp and an intermittent tremor in his left hand, not to mention other, smaller scars picked up along the way. His therapist had informed him that those were the least of the scars, and most were invisible, beneath the flesh.  Of course, she also said he had trust issues, so he wasn’t sure what to think of her advice.

What she didn’t say was that he would for some reason decide to trust a lunatic genius with possibly more internalized scars than he had.

Sherlock Holmes was an invigorating kind of terrifying.  John hadn’t realized just how dull civilian life was, and how dead inside it had made him, until Sherlock rolled in like an electric storm and woke things up.  It was surprisingly easy to agree to share a flat with a man who made John feel alive again.  The problem was, John quickly learned that keeping Sherlock alive was a different matter, and an altogether more difficult one.  It probably wasn’t until the run-in with the homicidal taxi-driver (in which John had to shoot said taxi driver to keep Sherlock from playing a game of ‘Which pill is the lethal one?’) that the ex-Army doctor realized that there was perhaps something a bit suicidal about Sherlock.

Of course, everyone had theories on why Sherlock took risks: Agent Donovan said it was because he was a freak, plain and simple – Lestrade said that Sherlock needed to take risks to prove how smart he was.  None of those quite felt right, however, and the longer John lived with Sherlock, the more he worried.  The eventual drug-bust on the flat didn’t help matters, although it did clue John in to some of the other problems (past and present) that his genius flatmate had.  It seemed that Sherlock was a recently reformed addict, and possibly not perfectly reformed either, if his penchant for overusing nicotine patches was any indication.  John had, by this point, accepted the fact that he was loyal to Sherlock first and everyone else second, but when he realized the distinct possibility of Sherlock getting high on illegal substances, his loyalties began to feel a bit more torn.  He didn’t honestly know if he’d be able to turn the man in – and at the same time, he didn’t know if he had the skills or the emotional fortitude to help the man back to sobriety himself.

Thankfully, Mycroft’s nosiness came into play.  He’d already more or less kidnapped John to instigate their first meeting, offering John money to spy on Sherlock, and it hadn’t put the ex-Army doctor and the elder Holmes on very good terms.  However, after Lestrade’s team did their rude and impromptu search of the flat, Mycroft texted John and arranged to meet him in a more polite way than before.  Anthea still picked John up, but otherwise it was more on his terms, and when Mycroft and John ended up walking in a nearby park, the elder Holmes was actually the more uncomfortable-seeming one.

“Sherlock has a past, you know,” he eventually said, aloof as always.  Anthea was trailing not-so-inconspicuously behind them, her entire attention glued to her phone yet her footsteps never faltering nor tripping.

Watson snorted.  “Everyone but a newborn would, I imagine.”  His leg had been bothering him again, and he was glad that he’d brought his cane – but not glad that he’d agreed to this walking style of meeting.

Mycroft, having already made his comments about Watson’s psychosomatic injury, was surprisingly polite in that he didn’t mention its resurfacing now, in the wake of the day’s unsettling events. Instead, in a rare show of pleasantness, Mycroft opted not to be an arse, and instead just nodded and then replied with a sigh, “Yes, but not everyone loses a baby brother and knows that it’s all their fault.”

The talk that followed necessitated that they stop walking.  John was floored, and with every new bit of information he was given, he felt more and more unsteady – and more and more fiercely protective of Sherlock, because of course Sherlock was messed up if his own brother stated that this past event was all Sherlock’s fault.  John didn’t have time to berate Mycroft for his stellar lack of empathy, however, as the elder Holmes began to brutally lay out the facts.

There had once been a third Holmes brother, a youngest.  The baby of the family.  But then Sherlock had gone around making enemies, fearlessly flaunting his skills in the faces of powerful criminals – and then, wouldn’t you know it? One of those criminals had bitten back.  Without any sort of warning, the youngest Holmes was gone like a puff of smoke.  And no amount of hunting could recover him.

“Then came the depression and the drugs,” Mycroft said, as if none of this had affected him – as if Mycroft were somehow the embodiment of the British stiff upper lip, and therefore immune to such emotional faults of character.  But John was beginning to figure the Holmes boys out by this point, and he could see the way Mycroft’s mouth was tensing, and how his back had gotten stiffer.  John wanted to scream at Mycroft to just admit that he was still hurting, but the eldest Holmes was already moving on, “Sherlock wanted to look for our baby brother, but he was young, and already unstable.  He ended up nearly overdosing first.  By the time he was through detox, the trail had gone cold.”

“So, what, he just gave up?” John snapped back, because even though he’d only known Sherlock for a short amount of time, that didn’t sound like him.

Mycroft’s expression grew hard.  He said back stiffly, “He couldn’t have survived another hunt.  Not one so close to home.  Not when it was useless already.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”  John didn’t realize that he was just holding his cane now, not using it.  His heart was hammering and it felt like he had fire in his veins, like he could breathe it out like a dragon any second now as he encroached on Mycroft’s personal space.

Like a wraith, Anthea was suddenly a lot closer.  Mycroft lifted a hand to belay her, even as he kept his eyes locked with John’s, mouth moving as if he’d tasted something sour.  Finally, and clearly begrudgingly, he replied, “I provided evidence to show Sherlock the truth.  That there was no way Siger was still alive.”

John opened and closed his mouth a few times.  He didn’t know what to say.  What eventually came out was, “You fucking lied to him?”

“Thankfully, he was easier to lie to at that age.  It was years ago.”

“You bloody fucking lied and tricked him into believing that his kidnapped little brother was dead?”

“There was no other logical outcome!” Mycroft finally broke and yelled back.  Anthea finally looked up from her phone, something she hadn’t even done when John had gotten up in Mycroft’s face.  Even John blinked a few times, taken aback. Mycroft looked uncomfortable as he composed himself, not immune to the same shock everyone else was feeling, at the revelation that the eldest Holmes brother had some feelings in that tin-can body of his.  He went on in a more peevish, modulated tone, “The kinds of people Sherlock had threatened were not the kind to make idle threats back.  If they took a boy, it was not to take care of him like a pet – certainly not for years.”  Suddenly defensive, Mycroft made eye-contact again and asserted, “Surely you don’t think I neglected to put out feelers of my own?  The whole time Sherlock was higher than a kite and trying to kill himself on cocaine, I was looking and listening – but found nothing.  You surely know the statistics, Dr. Watson, of how the likelihood of a kidnap victim being found alive falls with every passing hour.  It’s been years.”

“You still.  Should have.  Told him,” Watson said, breaking apart the sentence as if it were multiple rocks he could stone Mycroft with.  “Do you think this lie has helped him?  God, he’s so unstable I had to shoot a madman just yesterday to keep him alive.”

Oddly enough, Mycroft was actually a bit surprised by that revelation – he hid it well, but it was clear the elder Holmes’ defences were down a bit, because his mouth quirked questioningly and he said back, “You shot someone for my brother?”

“Yeah, and that’s a fat lot better than you did,” John snapped back recklessly, turning now to pace.  His cane was held now like a weapon, his hand in the middle of its weight, his legs moving smoothly.  “You just lied to him, and let the idea fester inside of him all this time that he was responsible for the unproven death of his baby brother.”

“It was his fault,” Mycroft’s voice began to rise again.  Sherlock wasn’t the only one with festering wounds and old, bitter pains.

“He was barely more than a child himself!” John rounded on him to shout back.  Luckily, they’d picked a very abandoned park – and had walked out into the middle of it before having this conversation.  Before Mycroft could open his mouth and let his quick wit out again, John pointed a finger at him and just kept talking, “You know that he’s still suffering for that, don’t you?  That’s why you were going to pay me to keep an eye on him.  You know full well that he’s just one bad day away from either going back to doing drugs or getting himself killed in some other spectacular way.”

“Sherlock has always been reckless-” Mycroft tried for a pacifying tone.

“Oh, come off it,” John scoffed over him, anger making him vicious in a way that few people knew he could be.  Quiet, mild, unassuming John Watson; a small man with a small temper, always letting Sherlock walk all over him.  Well, people who thought that didn’t know him very well, and now Mycroft was learning the truth the hard way.  “Fine, he’s reckless by nature, I’ll give you that, but there’s a difference between a reckless genius and a suicidal brother who is mourning someone still.”  To his credit, Mycroft looked away, although he was wearing a sour expression again like he didn’t want to swallow these words.  John took the silence as an opportunity to give his cane a shake in Mycroft’s direction and state, “I’m going to tell him.”

Mycroft’s head whipped back around to face him.  “No, you will not, Dr. Watson,” he said in a tone used to being obeyed.

Too bad John had been dealing with drill sergeants for so long that the usual tones of enforcement didn’t even phase him anymore.  John gave a slightly manic little giggle as he realized that Sherlock had realized faster than his brother that ordering John around was a waste of breath once he dug his heels in.  His heels, now, were well and truly dug.  “Yes, I am.  And what are you going to do about it, hm?  Make me quietly disappear?” he challenged, unable to avoid the little glance at Anthea.  She was looking back at him, face carefully blank, phone in hand but ignored now.  John nailed Mycroft with his gaze again, expression pugnacious as he stated flatly, “What do you think that that will do to your brother, hmm?  He may be an antisocial git at times, but I also think he’s not all that good at losing people, and he’s a helluva lot smarter than he was when you first lied to him, isn’t he?”  Mycroft said nothing, having no denial, it seemed.  John rested the tip of his cane on the ground again.  “Now, take me back.  I’m done bloody talking with you, and I think that deep down, you realize that Sherlock needs to work through this – and the only way he can is with the truth.”

It was mostly a bluff.  There were probably a million ways that Mycroft could get John to comply without actually hurting or removing him – although arguably, all of those ways would soon reach Sherlock, with his keen eyes and nose for trouble.  Still, it was surprising when Mycroft gave in.

So John went home.

And he told Sherlock.

Barely a week later and Sherlock had tracked down a man named Ronald Adair, and while Sherlock still wasn’t talking to Mycroft, John took the time to shoot off a text that read ~The trail isn’t cold.  Not yet.~

 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock and John – present day

~^~

The news about Mycroft’s deceit, and the possibility of Siger Q. Holmes being alive lit Sherlock up like supernova, like a shot of adrenaline right to the heart.  John had never seen anything like it, and if he’d thought that Sherlock was obsessive and relentless before, that was nothing compared to what he saw now. And while Sherlock was still not exactly a good example of a healthy work-life balance (sleeping and eating were things he regularly forgot), he had a purpose now, and John found that he spent less time curtailing self-destructive tendencies.  He got the sense that instead of babysitting a ticking-time-bomb, he was instead merely directing a shark. Both had the possibility of great bodily harm in some way or another, but the latter was more natural and longer lived. 

And for some time, they made progress that John knew would have taken any normal police force y ears.  Even Mycroft was impressed, John knew it, although the eldest Holmes would never come right out and say so.  Sherlock was getting more than nibbles on the end of his line, too – there were some good, hard tugs letting him know that he’d hooked a big one.

But when they tried to real it in… the line was suddenly and irrevocably cut.

Their main lead, Ronald Adair, turned up dead before they could question him.  In fact, it seemed that he’d been dead for a very long time - since not long after Siger had disappeared, in fact, as if someone had realized that Sherlock would get this close.  

Sherlock had been sure that Adair had had his hands on Q – positive.  He’d also been sure that others had their hands on Adair, however, pulling his strings, and that had been the real things Sherlock had wanted to know, because those strings would lead to Q.  But now all they found was a limp puppet with its master gone like a ghost, and for the first time, John began to understand why Mycroft had ended this hunt before it had begun. 

Sherlock… imploded a little.  More than a little. True, at first he went into even more of a frenzy of investigation - such a frenzy that he even managed to get Adair’s body exhumed so that they could travel to look at it.  But whoever had killed Adair had been aware of just how good a bloodhound they had on their heels, because their tracks were incredibly well hidden, even if one disregarded the time that had passed since then.  Normal deterioration of a corpse wouldn’t have been enough to stop Sherlock on its own. Sherlock suspected that there were middlemen involved, so that if he found the actual murderer, he’d still have more people to get through before he reached his missing brother.  That frustrated Sherlock to the point where John actually considered sedating him. Sherlock didn’t eat, Sherlock didn’t sleep, and worst of all, Sherlock didn’t make any progress.

While John considered just how horrifying it was that there was someone out there capable of outwitting Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective in question went through the process of basically losing his little brother all over again.  John went back to his old routine of subtly watching to make sure Sherlock didn’t start seeking out cocaine again.

At once point, John accepted an invitation to meet Mycroft at a neutral location - an unexpectedly homey pub.  When John, who was exhausted from days and even nights worrying about Sherlock’s self-harm habits, tiredly sighed, “Just say it.  You told me so” Mycroft didn’t say anything. Instead, the eldest Holmes, who also looked very tired around the edges, just ordered them a round of drinks.  Notably, Anthea was not there. John didn’t stay long, not wanting Sherlock to get into anything unattended, but when he returned to their flat, the consulting detecting hadn’t even moved from where he was stretched across the couch, staring upward at nothing.

Eventually, Sherlock got some life back in him, but it was a mixed blessing.  Catatonic-Sherlock was less of a handful, minus the periodic hassle of forcing him to eat and bathe (John was pretty sure he deserved a sainthood for repeatedly and physically forcing Sherlock to do both of those things, except he wasn’t going to tell even God that he’d stripped his flatmate and shoved him into a bath) - non-catatonic-Sherlock was back to being a frenzy of chaos.  It was impossible to predict what Sherlock would do next, but you knew that he was going to do something, especially when he started taking on cases again.  Sherlock’s attempts to pretend like nothing had happened, that life would go on, that his recent failure changed nothing, were utter bollocks, but John didn’t know what to do about that.  

So he did what he’d always done before: followed Sherlock around doggedly and tried to keep him from getting killed or in jail.  

Of course, this tended to put John in danger as much as Sherlock and in the Holmes’ present emotional condition, he wasn’t exactly equipped to realize, “Oh, if I keep pulling stunts like this, I might inadvertently get my only friend killed.”  That blindspot in Sherlock’s intellect had led to the current predicament John was in.

What had started as a search for a missing cat had led to a cheating husband, a lying banker, an alligator smuggler, and now a gang - but still no cat.  John had lost track of the plot ages ago. All he knew now was that Sherlock had just taken off after the fleeing gangleader, leaving John stuck in the middle of five decidedly less cowardly gangmembers.  “Sherlock-!” he started to yell, but cut off almost immediately, knowing that even his parade-ground holler wouldn’t be enough to distract Sherlock from the chase now that he’d started it. Sherlock’s obsessiveness was akin to that of beagle’s who would put their nose to the ground and chase a scent until they were not only lost and far from home, but their nose was bloody.  John could barely muster up the energy to be frustrated about that. He also had a lot of other things to worry about, as glaring men circled up around him, none armed with a gun, thankfully - but John’s own gun had already been lost in the tousle. If Sherlock had bloody bothered to stay around for a bit longer, perhaps he could have found it and tossed it to his flatmate, but noooo that’s not how Sherlock was playing lately.

Okay, maybe John did have the energy to be frustrated.

Channelling his temper into a little smile that was really nothing more than a threatening baring of teeth, John tried to keep his weight off his bad leg and challenged, “Well, come on then.”

John wasn’t bad in a fist-fight, and he actually had a knife on him - but a gun would have been really nice, especially since they were in a part of town where it would be hard to get police attention otherwise.  As the fight began in earnest, John was keenly aware of the fact that, around here, there were basically homeless people and members of this gang. If he got through this in one piece, he was going to have a talk with Lestrade about proper police presence in shady locations…

It only took a minute to realize that this was one of the worst situations that Sherlock had unthinkingly left his flatmate in. While John’s bad leg was quickly forgotten (his therapist would see this as proof of it being psychosomatic; John saw this as proof that adrenaline could do amazing things), that didn’t do anything to lessen the number of people he was dealing with.  No sooner had John drawn his knife and fended one off then another came at him from behind, forcing him to spin around. He’d already been in a bad position, and fought now just to get a wall at his back, all the while hoping that no one else came out of the various alley entrances around them. When he got tackled right into the bumper of a parked car, a knife sinking into the tire next to him, Watson realized the very real possibility of dying here.

Instincts from Afghanistan took over.  Repressed but not erased, old instincts gripped John’s muscles, and suddenly he was attacking with more purpose.  He drew first blood, and a lot of it - and with such a lack of hesitation that he could tell he gave his attackers’ pause.  But there were still a lot more of them than there were of him, so John, seeing that there still wasn’t an easy exit, just did what he’d done in combat: he pressed forward, hard .  Can’t go around it, gotta go through it…  John was not a big man, but he went for the gangmember who looked the most startled, and was able to shove him down, laying open a big cut down the man’s arm, too.  

Unfortunately, as John, panting, tried to leap over the man and away, he felt a hand close around his ankle.  Apparently, the bastard he’d just cut wasn’t quite as weak as he’d hoped - or at least wasn’t so stunned as to let John go so easily.  John hit the ground hard, feeling the impact seemingly rattle every old injury he had. He dropped his knife despite his best efforts, which made him so incomprehensibly mad that he started shouting invectives, and the kick he aimed at the grabbing hand resulting in something that sounded like a dislocation.  The man holding him let go with a shrill yelp of pain, and John lurched forward to reclaim his knife. He flipped over onto his back just in time for someone else with a knife to try and dive in on top of him. He was just in time to deflect the other weapon, but still ended up with a big brute of a man straddling him, a knee hitting John’s ribs hard as it descended towards the ground.  Even winded, though, John was damn stubborn, and he had a grip on his opponent’s knife-hand now, pushing it away. He was snarling again, and finally no longer thinking of Sherlock, and how this was a fucking sad way for their messed up relationship to end.  

Oddly enough, though, no one else had come to assist John’s attacker… which was strange, seeing as there had been five gangmembers to start with, and John hadn’t actually killed any of them as of yet.  He’d bloodied two, but that still didn’t mean he’d evened the odds. Even as he thought this, John tried to push his own knife closer to his opponent’s arm, because a cut to a limb was better than no cut at all.  He was distracted by what sounded like a yelp not too far away.  

He was really distracted by what sounded like a gun with a silencer.  

That distraction nearly ended in John losing an eye, and he wrenched his attention back to the matter at hand - because while a gun might kill him later, this bastard with a knife might kill him now.  Chest still aching and unable to get his breath back with someone sitting on him, John nonetheless managed a breathless growl of “I was already having a bad day!” before managing to buck his body and jerk his knife-hand.  He wasn’t entirely sure where he managed to cut his attacker, but he felt the resistance of his knife catching against something - and that ‘something’ giving way - and saw red before the man on top of him toppled back surprisingly quickly with a shocked cry.  

Confused, because he hadn’t had the leverage to shove upwards all that hard, John just blinked for a second.  Fighting gave him tunnel vision, he was aware - the better to focus on a threat until it was dead - so it took him a few gasping seconds to jerk his eyes upwards, really taking everything in.  He blinked in shock when he saw a blond-haired man standing over him, one hand still on the shirt-collar of John’s most recent attacker.  

The blond-haired man seemed to currently have a bit of tunnel-vision himself, or at least he had pale-blue eyes hyper-focused on the gangmember in his grip.  In the blue-eyed man’s other hand was the gun with the silencer, aimed between the gangmember’s terrified eyes. “As much as I’d love to shoot you, it would probably be less messy if you left, and forgot that you were even here,” the gunman said, with a calmness that had John immediately paying attention.  In Afghanistan, John had had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of dangerous people, to the point where he could just about identify every different flavour of them - and this man… was a uniquely deadly flavour, that much was instantly obvious.  

Sitting up and trying to decide whether or not this put him in more or less danger than he’d been in a minute ago, John opened his mouth.  To say what, he wasn’t sure. To bargain for the gangmember’s life? To ask if the gunman had already killed someone? To plea for his own life?  All sounded like really very valid options. Instead, John’s eyes ended up doing a quick, belated scan of his immediate surroundings, and he saw something that immediately ground his thoughts to a halt.  

There were actually two new arrivals on the scene.  There was the blue-eyed man with his gun and his calmly menacing demeanour - but there was also a boy, a teen at most, quite calmly delivering a kick that sent another gangmember sprawling, unconscious.  There were three other bodies on the ground, unconscious or dead, and by their proximity to the boy, he’d been responsible for at least a few of their conditions. For all that, the kid appeared mostly unruffled, if perhaps somewhat winded as his chest rose and fell, breath puffing in the cool winter air.  

All of that would have been quite noteworthy, even to John, whose time with Sherlock had left him innured to many strange things in life.  But what John was staring at was the kid’s wild, wavy, black hair - hair that John himself had stared at nearly every day since moving into 221B Baker Street.  Along with wide-set eyes, behind glasses on this new face, but still so familiar that it left John winded. And cheekbones, those cheekbones. Pale skin. And a fluidity of motion that shouldn’t have fit with those lanky limbs, but somehow did…  

It all slid together into a picture that John wasn’t ready for, and he was barely aware of the small, gutted noise he made - as if he’d just been punched in the stomach.  

“Siger?” he said with what little breath he could draw in. 

~^~

Spall might have been a despicable person even by James’ standards, but one thing had to be said for him: he gave accurate information.  Q and James were directed to a particularly derelict part of town, at which point they continued on foot and soon found their ears assaulted by the sound of fighting.  When Q heard the name “Sherlock!” being shouted in a frustrated voice, he jumped as if someone had just run an electrical wire along the pads of his feet… and then almost immediately bolted forward, full-speed.  

“Q-!” James barked, in much the same tone that the previous name had been shouted around the corner.  An attempt to grab at Q failed, however, since the kid was slippery as an eel when he wanted to be. Swearing quietly and not missing out on the irony of the situation (usually, James was the impulsive one, running right into the teeth of trouble), James strode forward at a more controlled pace - while also pulling out and affixing the silencer for his gun.  It looked like they were heading into quite a mess, and attracting the attention of local officials would only make things worse. Usually, Bond liked a good bit of chaos, but he found that when he was with Q, he worried about the boffin’s wellbeing more than he wanted to admit.  

Usually, Q seemed to worry about his own wellbeing just fine - the kid’s survival instincts were far more functional than a 00-agent’s - but when James turned the corner and finally got a view of the fight, he immediately swore again because Q was already in trouble.  It looked like there were six men total (one of which James identified on the fly as John Watson), plus Q, and while James was rather impressed by the fact that Q was literally clinging to someone’s back and choking the man out, it left Q’s own back undefended. Aiming on instinct, James took out a would-be-attacker’s left kneecap before the fellow could grab Q and rip him free of his perch.  From there, James kept his gun raised, but took another moment to assess the situation more fully - and why not? Q actually seemed to have things handled now, and James did rather like to watch the teenager work.  

Much like with the C.I.A., James let Q fight his own battles, resisting the urge to whistle in approval as Q literally rode his rapidly-asphyxiating opponent to the ground.  

It looked like John Watson was in a bit more of a fix, however, so James reluctantly waded further into the thick of things, going from spectator to participant.  There was one unfriendly individual sitting on Watson, and the two were trying to both stab each other and remained unstabbed; James and Q had taken out a man each; this left two individuals free to cause trouble, but since both of them were bloodied already, James decided that Q could handle them.  This would be payback for all of the trouble Q had caused at MI6.  

007 paused to pistol-whip the man he’d kneecapped, though - just to make sure that the villain wouldn’t add to Q’s workload.

It was nice to work with a partner who pulled their own weight (as slight as that weight was), James decided, as he strode right up behind Watson’s attacker without anyone stopping him.  Canting his head, Bond noted with interest that Watson really wasn’t that bad of a fighter - he remembered that the man was ex-military. Not wanting to risk the man also being ex-living before they could get answers out of him, however, James sighed and reached forward with his left hand, dragging Watson’s attacker sharply backwards at about the same time that Watson nearly laid the man’s throat open with a slash.  ‘ Good cut ,’ James thought to himself, although the cut had landed low - still, it was enough to cut through clothing and flesh, bloodying the attacker’s chest almost instantly.  

It was tempting to just shoot the man he’d grabbed, but technically, John was a civilian, and this was London, and even if James wasn’t in the metaphorical dog-house for his recent stunt with Q… MI6 tended to frown upon murders within the country’s borders.  As M had said: you didn’t shit where you slept. So James merely pulled together the first threat that came to mind, and was preparing to let his prey scurry off when suddenly he heard Watson gasp something. Turning, brows lowered in apprehension, James saw that Watson had gone pale as death, as if he’d seen a ghost - and he was staring right at Q.  Q himself didn’t seem to have heard or noticed (good boy; he was finishing off his work), but James swiftly grasped at his short-term memory, enough to recall the specific sounds that had come out of Watson’s mouth. It had sounded like a name, since ‘Siger’ didn’t otherwise mean anything to James, despite all of the languages he knew.  

Watson kept staring at Q for a few seconds longer, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist, and then James watched as the doctor gave his head a hard shake, muttering to himself, “No.  No, that’s nonsense. He can’t be…”  

James’ prey was starting to wriggle, so he once again put his gun to good use - although only to knock the man out.  There were more important things going on here, and suddenly James’ intuition was screaming at him. So he acted on it: no more danger in sight, James turned and raised his voice, calling out as casually as possible to Q, “Siger!”

If Q hadn’t reacted, James would have played it off as a question - he’d have admitted to hearing John saying, and would pretend that he merely meant to ask Q if he knew what the word meant.  That wasn’t what happened, however. Instead, Q (who had had his back to them) jerked around so fast that he nearly lost his footing, all of this from a child-assassin who generally had impeccable balance.  James watched carefully but impassively as Q’s face became an open book of shock, eyes so wide that he looked wild for a moment. At first, he just stared at James, but then Q jerked his eyes to Watson. There was no recognition there - Q clearly didn’t know the doctor - but Q was moving his mouth without getting any words out, and Watson looked inexplicably like he was about to cry.  

It was Watson who managed to speak first, breaking the silence that was stretching to almost unnatural lengths.  The doctor, still sitting on the ground, cleared his throat and then said in a voice that was quiet, but broke a bit with uncertainty, “You… You look just like him.  Like your brother. I… I know him.”

For about three seconds, James felt honestly more chuffed than he’d felt his entire life.  He’d toppled governments, killed evil men, and had laid all manner of prizes at Her Majesty’s feet through his work (first in the Navy and then MI6) - but somehow, none of that compared to the feeling he had now, as he realized that they’d done it.  They’d found Q’s family.  

Three seconds.

Then Q suddenly started to hyperventilate, eyes going glassy with shock and his legs visibly threatening to buckle.  In an instant, James leapt forward, his gun held awkwardly in one hand because his holster wasn’t equipped to handle silencers.  Still, he was able to grasp Q’s shoulder with his left hand, crouching down to put their heads together and look for visible damage.  Q didn’t seem to be injured in any way, to Bond’s instant relief, but this new discovery seemed to be hitting him pretty hard. James understood; sometimes, even good news could hit painfully hard.  Even warm water caused pain to a limb that had grown used to the cold for too long.  

Managing after a moment to tuck his weapon through his belt in an acceptable manner, James got both hands on Q’s upper arms, murmuring to him softly, “Shh, shh, easy there, Q, easy.”  Q’s breaths were so strained and ragged that they sounded almost like sobs, and when the kid stumbled, it was reflex for James to let the smaller body in close, to nuzzle his jaw against tousled dark hair.  Gently working to snap Q out of his shock, James wrapped an arm around his back and teased very gently, “Just give that brain of yours a second to catch up, rabbit.”

Q’s unsteady breaths shifted into a disgruntled grunt.  “’Not a rabbit,” Q rasped out, and James found himself relaxing at the familiar, offended tone.  A stroppy Q was a normal Q.

James splayed his hand on Q’s back then dragged his fingertips in, hard enough for the scratch to be gently felt through Q’s jacket, right above his heart.  “Slow down your jackrabbit heartbeat, and maybe I’ll believe that - rabbit.”

There was the sound of shoes on gravel, not entirely unexpected.  James swivelled his head to watch John Watson belatedly get to his feet.  The man moved stiffly, especially on one leg, but just like with Q, Bond quickly ascertained that there was no fresh injury.  Perhaps an old wound then, or just bad joints, although John didn’t look that old. John did look a bit poleaxed still, but he had enough common sense to glance away from Q as he came forward - sparing a wary look for James that was entirely warranted.  007 resisted the urge to preen, always secretly enjoying it when someone was smart enough to realize that he was dangerous.  

As Watson stopped a meter or so away, and Q collected himself enough that he was no longer in danger of fainting, James backed off a bit.  He left one hand on Q’s shoulder at first, until he noticed Watson’s expression shift suddenly into something dark and surprisingly threatening - a protective look, James recognized right off the bat.  Good. He could appreciate a response like that. James let his hand drop, subliminally letting it be known that Q was not under his influence. Watson looked briefly surprised, then confused, then the tense readiness of the doctor’s shoulders relaxed.  

Q stood a moment, fingertips pushed up under his glasses and palms over his mouth and nose as he dragged in one more deep breath, held it, and then dropped his hands on the exhale.  James was keen enough to notice that the mask Q had in place was not one of his best ones, although it probably hid at least three-quarters of what the kid was feeling. “Who’s looking for Siger?” the boffin demanded, voice all edged in razors.  Again, James found himself nodding internally, and thinking, ‘ Good boy .’  Q was being careful.  There were still a lot of unknowns here, and Watson had done nothing to earn their trust.

For his part, the doctor seemed flustered, and still very off-balance.  He kept looking back and forth between James and Q, although his eyes always magnetized back to the latter - it was the look of someone who was afraid something would disappear if they blinked for too long.  It took a couple of moments for John to clear his throat again and create an actual response, “I… er… right, yes. I’m John Watson. I… You don’t know me. But I know your-” He cut off, but James already knew that he was going to repeat ‘brother.’  Instead, the doctor purposefully sealed his lips together and frowned, blowing out a frustrated breath through his nose. James watched as Q’s disinterested mask started to show cracks around the edges.  

Finally, Watson just spat out, “You are Siger Q. Holmes, aren’t you?”  

It was hard to tell whether this was a legitimate question, or something of an accusation, because John had balled his hands into fists, and his frown was truly thunderous - but his voice was tight and thin with something like desperation, like hope.  It was like he knew the answer, but at the same time, thought that the world was just tricking him.  

Q looked like he felt the same way, and his mask began to show more than hairline fractures.  When Watson just continued to stare at Q, his body and expression almost confrontational and clearly determined as hell, Q began to fidget.  Clearly, John Watson expected an answer, and was bullheaded enough not to speak again until he got one. Ex-military indeed. Q opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and suddenly he was twisting his head around to fix Bond with the most helpless, lost expression that James had ever seen.

Q didn’t know the answer.

James heart (which had been doing it’s best to hold up to Q’s various endearing personality quirks and sympathetic backstory for days now) broke clean down the middle.  

Here Q was, being presented with what looked like an answer to every question he’d been asking - an answer that would fill in a ten-plus year gap in Q’s sense of self.  It was the only gift that Q had been begging to receive for almost his entire life. But he didn’t know how to unwrap it. Hell, he didn’t even know how to grab hold of it.  Because he honestly wasn’t sure what to answer.  

James, who had watched just how self-assured Q could be, even about foggy past memories, had already deduced a few things: most importantly, that if Q really didn’t think that he was this Siger Q. Holmes, he’d have already turned and walked away.  So the fact that Q was confused was an answer in and of itself for James, even if Q apparently didn’t see things that way, and neither did Watson. Q perhaps didn’t have a self-assured ‘Yes’ waiting on his tongue, but definitely didn’t have ‘No,’ and that was why James sighed and turned to Watson.  “That’s actually a complicated answer,” he said in his most diplomatic voice, taking care to craft an expression that matched - something suitably congenial and calm. At the same time, he reached out a hand for Q’s shoulder again, squeezing reassuringly before naturally sliding his grip to Q’s nape.  He could feel the kid quivering there, when skin touched skin, Bond’s rough palm pressing down against the downy-soft hair at the back of Q’s slim neck. God, the boffin was coming apart on the inside, and all because he was afraid to hope for too much.  

Watson immediately bristled upon seeing James’ hand on Q, and instead of getting annoyed, James found himself relaxing.  He really did see it as a good sign that Watson was protective of Q. Somehow, this doctor had recognized Q, and in a way that engendered a very mother-bear-type response.  If Watson really were an enemy, or in some way trying to manipulate Q, then he wouldn’t be acting this way. In other words: the fact that Watson was glaring daggers at Bond endeared the doctor to him immensely.  Hell, if Watson had taken a swing at him, James would have probably bought the man a beer.  

Instead, James spoke up just as he saw Watson’s mouth opening to retort in some way, “An answer that we can all discuss in a less incriminating location - because I think that most, if not all, of these men are going to be waking up before long.”  While Q and Watson both startled and looked around, as if only just now recalling the scene around them, James asked the smart question: “Unless you killed any of them. You left them all alive, right, Q?”

Both Q and John turned back to give James looks - neither of them, notably, were all the disturbed, however.  John’s expression had settled into a baseline of distrust, and Q had managed something like his usual miffed expression when James asked him something insulting.  “Of course I did. You told me that if I killed people, I had to clean up,” the youngest of their little group said loftily.

Now Watson looked a bit horrified.

James hurried to reply before a conversation could get rolling on this particular topic.  “Right then, I think that it might be in our best interest to quit the area. I know a few places that would be much more suitable for a talk.”  He turned to the doctor, putting on his most genteel smile. “If that’s all right with you, Dr. Watson?”

There was a muscle in Watson’s jaw that was bunching up like he was biting back harsh words, and it was clear that he didn’t really like James as much as James already liked him.  However, the doctor soon gave a stiff nod. “Yes. Great. Lead on then.” He gestured impatiently with his hand, before turning back and swearing. “Damn. My gun…” Then, as the doctor turned to go and fetch the missing item, James also heard him mutter something about “Damn Sherlock” running off with “my damn cane.”  By this point, the situation honestly couldn’t get any more interesting.  

While James watched Watson with mildly-fond amusement, he also pretended not to notice how Q scooted closer and closer, until a tense, lanky body was all but pressed up against Bond’s side.  Q didn’t say anything, so James didn’t either, and soon the three of them were high-tailing it.

Chapter Text

By the time the three of them piled into a cab and James gave directions to a coffeeshop he knew, there still weren’t any sirens filling the air, confirming Q’s suspicions that those men he’d knocked unconscious were of a criminal element.  Good.  That was good.  Everything else was…  Q wanted to think ‘good’ again, but the truth was that his insides were tied up in knots, and somehow he’d imagined success would feel different.  Or, at least, that it would feel less like a punch in the kidneys.  

John Watson, who seemed to know who Q was, seemed pretty unsure how to react as well, which was mildly comforting.  The three of them were piled into the back of a taxi now, with Q squished in the middle while James somehow still managed to give the appearance that he was lounging; it was unfair how calm the agent was, while Q and Watson were both radiating anxiety like nuclear reactors.  Slowly, as if it were accidental, the arm James had stretched out across the back seat slid down until it was almost but not quite looped over Q’s shoulders.

Watson was trying to reach Sherlock, who was apparently Q’s brother.  Apparently, the attempts at communication weren’t working.  Q heard the call connect, and could almost make out a deep voice coming from the other end, but just as Watson opened his mouth to hiss, “Sherlo-!” there was a disconnected signal.  John Watson was not a large man, but the amount of anger that veritably vibrated through him now was impressive.  “That lanky bastard hung up on me,” the doctor growled as if in shock, mostly to himself.  He had the decency to turn to his new companions and clarify exasperatedly, however, “Well, Sherlock’s at least not gotten himself into too much trouble - he was able enough to inform me that he was too busy to talk on the phone before hanging up.”  

“Understandable,” James surprised them both by replying magnanimously.  Q was close enough to feel the agent’s shrug as much as see it.  “Sometimes phone calls are inconvenient, and I can’t judge, because I’ve been avoiding calls from work for hours.”  

Yes, but that’s because you basically turned renegade and ran off with me,’ Q quipped in his head.  Q searched around for any feelings of guilt over Bond’s situation, but either he sincerely didn’t feel all that bad about it, or he had enough tumultuous emotions to deal with right now and there was simply no room for guilt in the mix.  Maybe he’d feel bad about possibly getting James fired later… after he was done feeling confused, elated, frightened, and hopeful.  

“I’ll just text him the location of the coffeeshop we’re headed to, and make it clear that he needs to come now if he wants to have a flat to come home to,” Watson muttered.  His tone indicated that he was thinking of burning down said flat in retaliation, or something equally drastic.  Adding to Q’s internal struggles was now the possibility that he didn’t want to be related to this Sherlock fellow.  

Perhaps Q noticeably tensed up, or perhaps the taxi turned a bit more sharply than expected, because James’ arm dropped a bit more securely into place behind Q’s neck and shoulders.  When Q glanced over, though, the agent’s eyes were on the window, lazily watching the London traffic roll by.  

Watson started to speak a few times as they drove, but stopped every time.  Ultimately, no one said anything more until they got out and paid their fair to the taxi-driver, the awkwardness as thick as a fog between them.  

“All right,” Watson said finally as they stood on the curb outside a coffeeshop that Q had never been in before, but which was fairly empty, “Introductions, before we go any further.”  The firmness in his voice and the stubborn clarity in his eyes reminded Q that this doctor was ex-military; he’d seen Afghanistan in John Watson’s files.  Holding a hand out, Watson focused on James first, who raised one eyebrow slightly.  “I’m John Watson.”  

Despite the fact that this information was already very known to Q and James, the agent decided to smile, and returned the handshake with a firm grip.  Seeming to be amused, 007 said, “Bond.  James Bond.”

John nodded in what could only be called a militant way, accepted that.  Then he turned pointedly to Q, extending his hand again, this time silently and watchfully.  ‘He’s waiting for me to say Siger,’ Q thought to himself, ‘Or Holmes.’  It caused Q and almost physical pain in his chest to realize that he couldn’t.  All he could give was the truth that he knew - and the name that he’d built himself around.  “I’m called Q.”

“Q?  Just Q?” was Watson’s baffled response, although he squeezed back when Q took his hand for a polite shake.

“Just Q.”  It was on the tip of Q’s tongue to remind Watson that ‘Q’ was the middle initial that he’d spoken earlier, but that somehow felt sneaky and disingenuous… and for the first time in his life, Q actually didn’t want to be either of those things.  He felt like he’d swallowed acid and it was eating a bigger hole in his stomach the longer he stood there and thought about it.

Looking between the two of them with both eyebrows raised now, looking deeply unimpressed, James broke in, “How about we go inside?  The two of you have a lot to talk about, and the point of coming here was so that you could do that talking somewhere less public.”  With that, he turned smoothly on a heel and strode up to the door, holding it open like a very charming butler.  

Letting go of Q’s hand reluctantly, Watson turned and headed that way also.  Although he did comment shrewdly, “You say that like the two of us-”  He directed a pointer finger between Q and himself.  “-Are the only two who have anything to say.”

“Oh, I’m not really involved,” James said coyly, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.  His expression was warm and mild, and he looked so unassuming that Q had to remind himself that this was the same man who’d threatened to dislocate his thumb, and who had also asked him to jump off a roof.  

Q shot James an ‘I’m-on-to-you’ glare as he passed through the door.

James winked, and then followed the other two in to find a table in the back corner.

Everyone ordered tea, and then James spent a good five minutes flirting with the barista.  While Q was mostly just annoyed by the exchange, even he had to admit that James was good at what he did, and Watson across the table was staring with all the bewilderment of a man who struggled to get a girlfriend.  Q was in the middle of making more snap judgments about John Watson’s character when James finished up his barely-PG conversation and abruptly turned back to his two companions.  “All right, out with it, the both of you.  I have to get back to work eventually, and while I don’t really want to, the shitstorm will only get worse if I waste more time.”

Watson narrowed his eyes as if he had questions about that statement, but then his eyes slid to Q as if he couldn’t help it - and Q saw in Watson’s eyes what he’d seen before: a painful sort of hope.  Q knew the feeling.  Wanting to control the situation, Q rushed to speak first, but as soon as he opened his mouth, the words shrivelled up on his tongue.  Despite having an eidetic memory, he couldn’t even recall what he’d intended to say.  Feeling suddenly helpless in a way he hadn’t felt ever since he’d been trained to kill someone with a knife, Q looked desperately to James.  This time, though, the agent was not helpful - he’d pulled out his phone and appeared to be texting on it.  Probably trying to do damage-control on the ‘shitstorm’ at work.  Q sagged.  

To his surprise, though, Watson saved him from more awkward silence by taking the initiative and speaking himself.  The doctor cleared his throat and then spoke softly, “I… uh… I’m not really sure that there’s a good place to start this.”  He gave an uncomfortable laugh that Q felt to his very soul.  But then he bravely went on, “All right, just in case this is all an atrocious mistake, I’m going to start as if you aren’t really Siger and I’m just a wishful idiot.”  Q was unprepared for how viscerally that sentence hurt - he didn’t want Watson to pretend that Q wasn’t Siger Q. Holmes, because then it might become true.  

Get a grip on yourself,’ Q slapped himself mentally.  ‘You’ve only been around this man for about half an hour, and we’ve barely interacted.  Why do you care so much about having a connection?’  The sentiment was very logical, but for once, logic wasn’t really appealing to the boffin much.  

Looking down at his clasped hands on the table, Watson flashed a smile that was part grimace, although the expression got an ‘A’ for effort.  “How do I put this without sounding like a lunatic if I’m wrong, and redundant if I’m right?” he murmured to himself.  Somehow that sentence tricked a half-smile out of both Q and Watson.  James continued to fiddle with his phone, for all appearances tuning everything out.  “All right, from the top then.  The crazy prat I’ve been trying to get hold of is Sherlock Holmes.  We share a flat, and up until recently, I thought he only had one brother - but recently, I found out that he had another one.”  John’s eyes flicked up, fixing on Q, freezing the youth in place.  “This one went missing quite a few years ago, under suspicious circumstances,” Watson continued more softly, eyes never leaving Q’s face.  His voice dropped to little more than a thoughtful murmur as he finished, “I’ve only seen decade-old photos of the missing brother, Siger, but damn if you don’t look just like a young Holmes.”

Q felt as if his bones were trying to vibrate up through his skin, and it was a physical effort to hold himself still.  When he refused to fidget, however, his nerves decided to go for another outlet: his voice-box.  Q found himself blurting out without forethought, “I could be.”  James stopped messing with his phone, going very still but not looking over; Watson’s eyebrows both jumped up towards his hairline, and his hands tightened where they were clasped, knuckles going white.

The barista chose then to appear with their drinks.  Going through the motions of collecting their tea, Q and Watson probably resembled puppets in a bad play - although at least James slipped easily into his friendly persona.  This time, though, notably, the gregarious agent didn’t keep the girl caught up in his charms, but instead politely nudged her on her way.  

Q immediately pushed his tea aside and leaned forward, palms braced on the table and body tensed as if he’d just gotten out of - or was just going into - a fight.  He wasn’t sure what to say, but now it was clearly his turn, and all he could do was stare down at his damn fingers on the damn table.  “I could be Siger… but I’m not sure,” he finally pushed the words out into the open.  It felt like he was admitting to something shameful.  He felt his ears going hot and pink with an embarrassed flush.  “You see, I…  I don’t remember much from before I was five.  I’ve lived a very different life since then.”

Surprisingly, instead of laughing and asking if Q was just pulling his leg, John scrambled to be helpful.  For the first time, Q began to wonder if Watson wanted this to be true as much as Q did.  “That fits the timeline for Siger disappearing,” the doctor said, nodding and also leaning forward, tea as forgotten as Q’s.  His face was more open and earnest than pretty much anyone Q had met in his life… which wasn’t really saying that much, considering the company that Q had always kept.  “Where have you been since then?”

“Argentina.  Buenos Aires.”

“We-  We were there,” John stumbled over his words, sitting back and looking gobsmacked.  Then he leaned in again with even more eagerness, words tumbling out and one hand gesturing wildly but vaguely, “We - Sherlock and I - followed a lead all the way to South America, looking for you - for Siger, I mean.”  

I know.  Because that’s how I found you,’ Q wanted to say, but words were sticking in his throat again.  For the first time, he was feeling his training like a choke-chain around his neck, instincts that had helped him keep secrets and survive now choking him up when he least wanted it.  

Maybe his desperation and helplessness bled through into his eyes, because suddenly John was patting at his own person, checking pockets.  “Here!  Here, maybe if I show you a picture of your brother - of Sherlock.”  John was clearly struggling as much as Q was to keep a distance between Q and Siger.  “Maybe then, you can be sure-  Damn, where’s my mobile.”

For the first time, James broke into their conversation.  Still looking at the mobile in his hands, he drawled suddenly, “You actually have an awful lot of photos of this Sherlock fellow on your mobile.  You didn’t mention that the two of you were dating.”

The phone in James’ hands wasn’t his.  

There was a long second in which John just stared at James in shock, clearly coming to terms with the fact that he'd been pickpocketed, and James had just spent the last five minutes perusing his personal phone.  Then, Watson called James a few names (that were colourful enough for Q to very much believe that John was ex-military) and lunged around the table at him.  Bond’s reflexes were as fast as ever, and he immediately tossed the phone to a startled Q - who’s own reflexes bid him to swiftly catch it.  It was instinct to look down at it, and see the screen filled with a face that he’d seen before, but never really seen.

Q had looked up Sherlock Holmes and John Watson extensively, and there were pictures of them up aplenty: ID photos, images in the papers, etc.  But Sherlock had never really been… present… for the photos.  He’d either been clearly trying to avoid the camera, or had seemed so aloof and removed from the photo that Q may as well have been looking at a caricature of the man - and he’d never realized that until now.  This photo was different.  It didn’t look like Sherlock had been aware of this photo being taken; he wasn’t looking at the camera, but neither was he sneering as he ducked away from it, like so many of the images Q had found in the news.  There was no fake smile, like Q had seen on some articles where Sherlock was being touted for solving some crime or other.  No, there was no smile, in fact - and yet the man looked happier than any other time Q had seen his image.  In this picture on John’s phone, Sherlock was playing what looked like a violin, and his eyes were half-closed but thoughtful, bent to his task in a way that was beautiful.

And stunningly familiar.  

James and John had frozen in place, Bond watching Q despite the other man’s hand fisted in the front of his shirt.  The other people in the coffeeshop had to have noticed the impending kerfuffle, since John had one hand cocked back to punch, but it seemed like everyone had frozen in time, waiting for… for what?  For Q to breathe?  Because Q was waiting for that, too, but he’d somehow forgotten how lungs worked.  All he could do was stare at the screen, phone now clutched in both hands, held close to his face as if he didn’t have his glasses and needed the proximity to pull out every detail.  

The phone chirped.  It was so stark in the silence that it made everyone jump, even James.  It was a text from Sherlock Holmes, brief and to-the-point, and contrary in nature despite the messages John had left him: ~Busy turned into boring.  Was near the flat, so just went home.  Why do I have your cane?~

“What did he-?” John was asking, but Q wasn’t listening.  He’d barely even read the text.  His body was on autopilot as he typed.  

~Sherlock, do you still play Bruch on your violin when you’re happy?~

Something in Q felt complete as he hit send on that message, and he relaxed for the first time in what felt like… years, honestly. He sank down in his seat, and just looked up at Watson and Bond with a goofy smile on his face.  His eyes settled on Bond’s last, wondering if the agent could read in his gaze, ‘I finally did it!  I’ve finally found my answers!’

It finally all felt real.  

Siger Q. Holmes…

Of course, then the phone chirped sharply as another message came back.  Sherlock, far less lackadaisical than before: ~Who is this?~  And then, before Q could even consider a reply, Sherlock was calling the phone, and all of Q’s relief and calm transformed into panic.  He juggled the ringing mobile like a hot coal, letting out an embarrassing “Eep!” before Watson reached over James and snagged the device.  “What did you send…?” John started to ask, then saw the phone and muttered, “Oh bugger,” before answering with a sigh.  Now that it didn’t look like a fight was going to break out, everyone else at the coffeeshop relaxed (so quickly, in fact, that Q wondered if they were used to strange events like this), and John paced around their table and spoke in a strained voice, “Sher-  Sherlock!  Slow down…  Bloody…  Let me get a word in edgewise, would you!  And I could explain all of this!”

It didn’t sound like Sherlock was especially eager to respond to that advice, leaving John to keep starting sentence and get interrupted.  The poor man had a resigned look on his face that said this was normal.  Q found that somehow comforting, despite the knowledge that the frustrating man on the other end of the line was, it would seem, was his brother.  One of them, anyway.  Suddenly Q was casting back in his memory, trying to recall if his research had expanded far enough to encapsulate the other sibling he apparently had.  

“Good job, rabbit,” James’ voice pulled Q from his thoughts.  He was speaking softly and lowly, so as not to interrupt John’s attempts at a conversation, or otherwise draw attention; his blue eyes were watching the poor doctor’s strides, which had had a limp before but didn’t now.  Strangely enough, Bond’s voice held no sarcasm.  For once, the nickname was said without teasing, something gentle in it.  When Q just stared, saying nothing, the agent turned his head to meet his gaze.  “You’ve completed your first mission.  Even if it took you almost ten years to do it.”

“I’ve had missions before,” Q reminded, a bit tetchily, even as he felt warmth and happiness uncurl behind his breastbone.  He looked belatedly to his tea, taking a sip; he grimaced, as it had steeped far too long.  Maybe milk and sugar would fix it.

“Just practice runs,” James brushed the idea aside, lifting a hand to slide the sugar closer to Q without asking.  Notably, the agent hadn’t drunk any of his tea either, a small giveaway, perhaps, that he’d been as nervous as the rest of them this whole time.  “Something to keep your baby teeth sharp while your real ones grew in.”

“Your metaphors are strange and leave a lot to be desired.  Like your phone skills.”    

“Admitted it - you love hearing me answer a phone.”  James gave Q’s shoulder a little shove, timing it perfectly with Q taking a sip of his newly-sweetened tea.  Q ended up splashing lukewarm tea on his nose and chin as he was jostled.  

“I should have handed Sherlock over to you then,” Q sniped as he reached for napkins, knowing that it was a threat, because he could all but hear Sherlock… his brother… oh god, he had a brother… yelling from here.  He briefly considered dumping the rest of his tea right on James’ head, but the man was watching him with wariness behind his sunny smile, and the truth was, Q was beginning to feel too damn elated to even be mad.  

John had apparently managed to calm Sherlock down - either that or the consulting detective was still yelling beneath the hand that Watson had placed over the speaker.  Looking at Q, Watson said with a barely contained smile, “He wants to meet up.  Do you want to come to the flat - 221B Baker Street - or…?”

Suddenly Q realized that he still had a few demons to exorcise.  “No.”  For a moment, Watson looked downcast, and Q was aware of James stiffening beside him.  The agent actually moved a hand, so that it slid up Q’s back, calloused palm coming to rest warmly on the back of Q’s neck in something between reassurance and a warning.  Q wasn’t done, though, and cleared his throat before continuing, “I want to meet somewhere else.  A park I know.”  Beneath a stone angel, and a patron saint of lost things.  

~^~

John was no longer entirely sure what was going on, and he didn’t care.  Sherlock might have been one of the most infuriating people that John had ever met, and sometimes he wanted to push the man off a bridge with cement shoes, but Sherlock was also brilliant and incredible and John cared about him more than he should.  So right now, all John cared about was that Sherlock had a chance to pull free of this darkness that had clung to him for so long, because it really seemed like his little brother was alive and well.

The details were still murky, since Siger - who seemed to be going by his middle initial, strangely - hadn’t really explained anything more.  Once they’d left the coffeeshop, both Q and his mysterious, foreboding companion had clammed up, although so long as Sherlock ended up feeling less suicidally guilty, John didn’t care if he never learned a blessed thing more.  Siger Q. Holmes could have spent the last decade on the moon, but so long as he was able to look at Sherlock and say, “I’m your brother.  I’m okay.  Stop beating yourself up,” then that would be okay.

Despite Siger having picked this location seemingly at random, Sherlock beat them all there.  Standing just beyond a decrepit looking statue of some sort of kneeling saint with an angel overshadowing him, Sherlock looked aloof and foreboding in his black coat, a chill wind ruffling his hair.  It was Watson’s impulse to step forward and berate Sherlock for making this situation harder than it had to be, but before the doctor could speak, Siger stepped forward, undeterred.  Noticing that Siger’s companion had not stepped forward, but instead was sticking to the edge of the little clearing, Watson followed suit… and desperately hoped that Sherlock wouldn’t fuck this up, for his own good.  

Even in a winter coat, Siger was a leggy, spry little thing - exactly what John expected Sherlock must have looked like at this age, minus the spectacles.  In fact, watching them now, it was like watching a bizarre mirror image, and if John hadn’t been sure of Q’s claim on the Holmes name before, he was now.  This youth looked more like Sherlock’s brother than Mycroft did.  

Siger came to a halt, almost directly beneath the statue.  Instead of introducing himself, or trying to prompt the still-silent Sherlock to speak, the teenager simply began, “This is where I disappeared from.  I know that it was in the fall, and that a man brought me here.”  His voice was very calm, almost emotionless - another Holmes trait, John realizing grimly.  For when they were dealing with emotions they didn’t want.  “It was a trade-off.  Ronald Adair took me away from here.  I don’t think that any money was exchanged.”

It was hard to tell what Sherlock was thinking, but John knew him well enough to know that the mask was holding back a lot of emotions.  John just wanted to shake the man, to scream at him to just let those emotions out - because if there was ever a time to stop being emotionally constipated, it was now.  Both Holmes seemed intent on being Vulcans, however, as Sherlock spoke only to ask logically, “What else do you remember?”

“Very little,” was the prompt answer, following by the next line delivered like a skilful punch to the gut, “I think I was drugged.  I usually remember everything.”

Sherlock cocked his head slightly.  “Eidetic memory.”

“For everything after that.”  Siger tilted his head the other way, then asked, “But before that is coming back, a little bit.”

This time, when Sherlock spoke, there was a faint tremor in his voice, “Your text.”

Siger nodded.  It was harder to read his expression, since his back was mostly to John and James.  John had been in the army long enough to recognize a ready stance, however - Siger’s feet were braced like a soldier prepared for a fight, for danger.  “Your flatmate showed me a photo of you playing your violin, but he didn’t tell me about what you played.”

Briefly, Sherlock’s eyes flicked to John.  Damn, he was going to have a chat later about the photos on his phone, wasn’t he?  Thankfully, Sherlock’s mind was almost wholly consumed by the young man in front of him, and he was soon looking solely at Siger again.  “I don’t play anything by that composer anymore,” he said a bit gruffly.

For the first time, Siger reacted like a normal kid.  His weight shifted, and he rocked back on his heels a bit.  John could read his bewilderment from where he stood, even before Siger asked in the most guileless, vulnerable voice, “Why not?”

And suddenly, Sherlock’s mask cracked.  His mouth quivered at the edges before twisting down sharply, and the skin around his cheeks and eyes grew blotchy even before he closed his eyes and suddenly looked down.  He tried to rally himself, and quietly failed.  It was with a wet, sharp inhale that he lifted his head again and fixed Siger with eyes wild with pain, barely gasping out, “Because I only ever played that for you.”

There was a brief moment in which John thought nothing more would follow, or that Sherlock’s self-sabotaging tendencies would rear their ugly heads, or that something equally catastrophic would happen - like an alien spaceship to suddenly beam one of the brother’s away.  But then Sherlock’s knees seemed to nearly buckle, and instead of falling, the leggy detective lurched forward.  A second later and he had Siger in his arms more tightly than John had seen Sherlock hold anything.  The next breath Sherlock drew in sounded painful, a body of emotions dragged over sharp rocks, but John was just glad that Sherlock was feeling - rather than bottling everything away.  John felt his eyes get hot and inexplicably wet as he looked at the way Sherlock’s hands were almost desperately fisted in the material of his little brother’s jacket, the way Sherlock turned his head in against Siger’s neck, their nearly identical mops of hair intermingling into one dark, messy corona.  

And then Siger, who had been understandably startled by this, let out a soft keen and suddenly grabbed the taller man back.  His slender hands were like claws, they gripped so tightly.  

“Watson.”  It was Bond’s voice, and despite the fact that it was said in an undertone, Sherlock and Siger both turned their heads.  Sherlock’s eyes held an almost rabid level of possessiveness in them, enough ferocious protectiveness that John was actually startled - although he fully understood, and even approved.  Sherlock could be terribly fickle, and didn’t like to admit that he needed other people, but it was clear right now that he would bite right through the throat of anyone who tried to detach Siger from him.  

For his part, Siger’s expression looked raw and dazed, and there were tears all over his face.  It looked like he wasn’t entirely aware of the smile he was wearing.

Fortunately, Bond had no intention of separating the reunited brothers.  Barely glancing over at them (paying more attention to Siger, John noted, and ignoring Sherlock’s threatening glare entirely), Bond kept talking to John, “Let’s give them some space, hm?”   He turned his body in a silent suggestion to walk back a bit the way they’d come.  It was all very professionally done, subtle and polite.  It was almost enough to make John forget that this was the same man he’d see nearly shoot someone, and who had pickpocketed his phone.  

Reflexively patting his pocket to ensure that the phone was still there, John glanced once more at Sherlock and Siger (still hugging, perhaps afraid to let go), and then turned back to Bond with a nod.  “That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it?” he said with a small smile, before following the other man off to a discreet distance.  It didn’t escape John’s notice that Bond stopped when they were out of hearing range, but not entirely out of sight range - and that the blue-eyed stranger cast a keen, sniper’s eye over the intervening distance.

“Ex-military?” John guessed, not wanting to admit that he also liked being able to still keep an eye on Sherlock.  Holmes boys had a habit of getting into trouble if left unattended… but then again, Bond would probably know that.

That keen gaze showed surprise, and flicked back to John.  “Yes,” Bond admitted with raised eyebrows, “I was in the Navy.”

“Ah.  I thought I recognize some of the signs,” John said, “I’m-”

“Ex-military,” Bond filled in, flashing a slantwise smile.  “Afghanistan, yes?”

“How did you know?”

“I didn’t.  Q found out.”

And suddenly everything made even more sense - and John was more sure of Q’s identity as Siger Q. Holmes than ever.  He found himself laughing, eventually getting out, “Damn those Holmeses and their nosiness.  Did you know that Sherlock guessed that about me, too?  He barely even looked at me, and within five minutes of us meeting, he knew that I’d done a tour in Afghanistan, and a half-dozen other things.”

James looked wryly amused himself.  “Q found it all out on the internet.  He’s a terribly gifted hacker, among a half-dozen other things,” he echoed John’s words.  

“It runs in the family.  Their elder brother is smart, too, in his own way.  Annoying as hell, though.”  It made John almost giddy to say this all out loud - to discuss the Holmes family in terms of three boys instead of an unhappy two.  Mycroft and Sherlock had always seemed at odds, like something unbalanced.  John wondered if that was because they’d been missing Siger all this time.  

Both ex-military men looked over as Sherlock and Siger finally ended their hug, and went back to being awkward.  It was deeply amusing to watch, because John could read Sherlock pretty well - or, at least, well enough that he could see each abortive movement of Sherlock’s hands as an urge to start another bone-crushing hug.  Q was folding and unfolding his arms, clearly not sure what to do with them now that they weren’t wrapped around his brother.

Glancing over to see James watching Q with a softer gaze that he’d used to watch anything else, John took a risk and guessed, “You care about him, don’t you?”

Abruptly, the blond-haired man startled.  Eyebrows lowering and eyes turning sharp and hard again, Bond turned to John with a frown.  “I beg your pardon?”

It was tempting to say, “You heard me,” but John was pretty sure that if he forced Bond to answer the question, the man would just ask it right back.  Today was already emotionally complicated enough without two old veterans trying to describe the complicated feelings they had for Holmes boys.  “Nevermind.  I was just going to say thanks, for getting Siger back to his brother.  I imagine he took a bit of looking after - my Holmes does.”  Too late, John realized that he’d used the possessive to describe Sherlock, and winced.  Oh dear.  This was why people kept asking if they were a couple, wasn’t it?

James was enough of a gentleman not to point it out.  “Q is definitely a handful - and I’ve only known him for a short while.  I didn’t realize that it was a family trait, however.”

Now John’s laugh had an edge of mania to it.  “Oh, believe me, it is.”

“Damn.  He won’t grow out of it?”  There was a smile flirting with the side of Bond’s mouth; it was a handsome look, John had to admit.  

“Not even at gunpoint.”  

Somehow, Bond found that fantastically funny, and despite the fact that John got the impression that James didn’t spontaneously emote much, a full-throated laugh was soon coming out of him.  Full of pure relief and good feelings, John joined in, while in the background, Sherlock sprang forward to capture Siger in another hug.  They could almost hear Q’s squeak from where they were, although the boy once again returned the gesture with all his strength a beat later.

~^~

Epilogue - three weeks later

~^~

Q had been told by someone that Agent 007 could be a hard man to find.  Q didn’t know where they’d ever gotten that idea, for he’d always been able to locate the man quite easily - right now, for example, James was in the MI6 rec room.  

James had been methodically working over a punching bag, fists taped up and sweat making his grey sleeveless tee stick to his spine.  He turned and instantly straightened when he saw Q stride in.  A familiar, plays-with-fire smile graced the blond-haired man’s features.  “And here I thought MI6 wanted your head on a pike,” the man joked with easy humour despite the topic, “or in chains, at least.”  He gestured towards Q’s obviously alive and unchained state.  Q had, in fact, walked down here without escort at all - although he’d told Moneypenny where he was going.  She’d grown a bit more trusting of him since he’d apologized, and also explained the entirety of his story to her.  

“You aren’t dead or in chains either, I see,” Q retorted without missing a beat.  He was dressed a bit more poshly than James, in tan slacks and a checkered pullover; while with the House of the Havenots, he’d worn contacts a lot, but now he liked the scholarly appearance he created by wearing his glasses primarily.  “If I recall correctly, you were in the dog-house just as much as I was, last we talked.”  It had been a while.  Q’s reunion with his family had swept him away from James rather abruptly, things only now beginning to quiet down enough for Q to get away.  Although Q might have hacked a few security cams between now and then, assuring himself that James was still alive and being annoying.  

Shrugging, James replied airily, “Apparently I’m too handsome to kill and too useful to fire.”  Before Q could scoff and that, James went on, “And what about you?  Even if you weren’t wanted for the hacking of every spy agency the known world, it’s not often that civilians waltz into agent training rooms.”

“Lies and slander,” Q maintained his innocence with a sniff, “You have no proof that I hacked anyone other than MI6.  As for how I came to be here, in these hallowed halls...”  Now Q deflated from his pompous posture a bit, admitting with a slightly flabbergasted sigh, “It would appear that my eldest brother, Mycroft, is three things: one, an absolute ponce - two, incredibly skilled at pulling strings - and three, guilty enough to pull those strings and put us in MI6’s good graces instead of on their shit-list.”

“Language, Q,” James drawled.  

“He says that, too.”  Q rolled his eyes.  Then he stepped further into the room, until he was on the mat, too.  “He doesn’t call me Q, though.  Just Siger.  Sherlock, too.”

“What about John?” James asked unexpectedly.  His expression was understanding, though.  He’d settled into a relaxed stance, hands in the pocket of his jogging-trousers, and mouth set into a rueful half-smile. 

Realizing only then how odd this was, Q admitted thoughtfully, “He calls me Q a lot of the time - corrects to it, actually.  Why-?”  Q cut off as he went from looking at the middle distance to looking back at James again.  The man’s smile had gone from rueful to Cheshire.  “You’ve been seeing him, haven’t you!” he accused.

“We meet up for tea.  Or the gun range, depending on what mood strikes us,” James replied, adding shamelessly, “We talk about our respective Holmeses, and your brother Mycroft, whom we’re both glad is not our responsibility.”  Apparently, Q wasn’t the only one keeping tabs.  

“Nosy bastard,” Q sniped without heat.

James’ grin just widened.  “Takes one to know one,” he volleyed back without hesitation.  Then he took his hands out of his pockets, idly flexing his taped hands as he asked, “So, how does it feel to be part of a big, happy family now?”

“A small, dysfunctional family,” Q corrected, but only to hide how his heart immediately missed a beat in his chest.  Happiness kept hitting him in new waves when he was reminded that he wasn’t alone anymore, wasn’t adrift from what people called ‘home.’  Every time, he had to fight back the happy tears that crowded up behind his lashes.  So, to hide how heart-wrenchingly happy he was, Q tilted his head so that he was looking down his nose at James… only belatedly realizing that this was a skill he shared with Mycroft.  Dammit.  “It’s all right.”

“If it’s just ‘all right,’ then what are you doing here?” James asked, too smart for his own good.  The urge to punch James was so normal that Q almost laughed.  

Instead, he came up with a reasonable answer that was at least partially true, knowing that an agent like James would appreciate a bit of artful lying in any case, “Well, it’s a bit annoying being called ‘Siger’ all the time when I’ve gotten attached to Q.  Part of Mycroft’s deal with MI6 was also that I help them with computer security - apparently, they either arrest me for hacking, or I promise to make them un-hackable.”

“Sounds daunting.”

“Not for me.”

“Glad to see your family time hasn’t made you humble,” James said dryly, rolling his eyes.

Q just raised one eyebrow.  “You’ve been having tea-and-target-practice dates with Sherlock’s flatmate, and you don’t know just how incapable of humility the Holmes family is?” he asked incredulously, point-blank.  

Now James winced.  “Point,” he admitted, lifting a finger as if to mark the score.  

Smiling proudly at the little win, Q just took a moment to bask in it all: he’d found out where he’d come from, he’d survived the wrath of MI6, and now he also had a spy organization willing to shelter him if the Russians came after him… or any of the other organizations he’d hacked.  In return for his fixing MI6’s security, of course.  It wasn’t a bad deal.  Strange, but not bad.  

James was backing further onto the mat, flexing his arms a bit now, as well as his fists.  The energy that had filled him while punching was back again, making him a livewire of energy contained in one athletic frame.  “So, are you too posh now for a bit of sparring?” the agent asked unexpectedly.  When Q looked startled at first by the invitation, James flashed a close-lipped smirk and added the cherry on top, “I bet Siger Q. Holmes is prim and proper enough to have tea with the Queen of England, and would never think to throw a punch.”

Oh, it was on.  Q immediately began shrugging out of his pullover, toeing his shoes off simultaneously just to subtly show off his multitasking and balancing skills.  “Siger might be posh and proper, but QB-T1 is perfectly willing to beat your arse all across this mat.”

“Language.”

“Mimic Mycroft one more time, and we’re not going to be friends anymore.”  Pullover tossed aside, Q was standing just in his trousers, and the T-shirt he’d had on underneath - it was one that Bond had gotten him, ironically, in what felt like so long ago.  Emblazoned on the front, it said, ‘The name’s Bond.  Ionic Bond.  Taken, not shared.’  Q wasn’t entirely sure why James had gotten him this shirt besides the fact that it sounded like his name, but Watson had found it epically hilarious.  

James was starting to prowl a bit on the mats, his balance and pace like that of a big cat.  “Oh, we’re friends, are we?” he said back, casually enough.  Q knew the agent well enough to sense that it was all a ruse, however, the carelessness faked - James was watching him too closely to not care.

That was why, after a moment of shaking out his shoulders and limbering up a bit, Q said softly, “Yeah, we’re friends.”

James stopped walking.  He paused, and the two just faced each other across the mat, both learning something important in the gaze of the other.  Time stood still, like all the cliches said it would.

Then James blinked, smiled, and time sped forward again.  The agent sank into an easy, ready crouch and replied as easily as something would remark on the weather, “Well, then, you should know that I never hold back with friends.  You’re the one who’s going to get your adorable little arse handed to you, rabbit.”

Instead of getting mad about being called adorable, or about being called ‘rabbit,’ Q just grinned fiercely and launched himself forward - because Bond’s threat sounded splendid.  Maybe that’s why he’d really come to MI6 today: to have someone treat him just as he was, as Q, and not hold anything back.  Sure, he’d found out who he was now - Siger, the lost youngest child of the Holmes family - but that didn’t change the fact that he was also still Q.  And it seemed that at least someone knew that: a certain annoying agent named James Bond.  

Q hoped that they’d get to keep working together in the future.  Maybe he could extend his tenure at MI6, after fixing their security issues…

 ~^~

The End