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the hand i want to hold forever (is yours)

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Q noticed, of course he noticed, but he didn't want to say anything about it.

There was nothing to say.

A few mugs and glasses dropped here and there, difficulty with buttons on shirts and trousers and jackets. Outwardly, he blamed it on the weather, on his weak eyesight, on tiredness. Internally, he attributed it as one of the consequences of ageing. Despite what everyone said about his youthful looks, Q was getting on in his years. Turning forty was not far off on the horizon, and he had the beginnings of grey in his hair to prove it.

But when his clumsiness increased in frequency, it became a bit more worrisome.

It wasn't entirely new. Q had always felt a bit of pain in his hands--the result of too much time spent typing and little else--and sometimes numbness, but nothing of the intensity he began to encounter on a daily basis. He woke up aching and went to bed with his fingers on fire. It wasn't something he considered to be a serious problem until it began to affect his work. Weapons design became difficult when Q could not grip his tablet pen and soon, he could not longer take an active part in the development and construction of tech within his own department. Q then had to give up testing weapons--something that he prided himself on doing before handing over any equipment, his own personal brand of guaranteed quality--because he could barely lift a gun, let alone hold it steady enough to shoot. He tried to focus on accomplishing smaller tasks to keep his mind off things, but soon Q found that he could not hold a soldering iron without tremendous effort and so, his favourite past time tinkering with computer parts and rebuilding machinery became a thing of the past.

It went on for a while, one thing after another. The final indicator of the severity of his condition manifested itself when his typing slowed noticeably, so much that even R began looking at him sideways when she thought he wasn't paying attention. People were beginning to talk and Q was running out of possible excuses. There would eventually be questions, which would require Q giving answers he was not prepared to give.

Not yet anyway.


If someone would have asked Q where he expected to end up at thirty-eight, he could not have said Quartermaster of MI6, lover of the infamous, now-retired-but-still-kicking-Double-Oh-Seven, James Bond. But somehow, somewhere along the line--between the banter and the ruined equipment and the innuendo all over the comms--it had happened. They fell together quickly and all at once, something hard and desperate and unstoppable. Q knew what he was getting himself into, knew that Bond could up and leave at any time, could die at any time, but Bond's hands on him were like nothing he had ever felt before, and he could not even begin to care about the repercussions. Honestly, Q thought it would only be a whirlwind affair, something to satisfy the itch of curiosity, that heated thing between them that had been simmering from the moment they met. But Bond had stayed. Over time, that riotous thing that drove Bond quieted, and his touches weren't always bruising and hungry, like a man starved for them, like a man who feared he might lose them. Now, nearly six years later, Q had the job he loved and a man he loved even more, and everything was fine.

Except it wasn't.

His condition progressed so slowly that Q managed to keep shrugging it off, until he couldn't any longer, at work or at home. There were the painful, daily reminders of his affliction: he could barely lift a half-full kettle to make himself tea in the mornings. Washing his hair, brushing his teeth, feeding himself, dressing for work--all of these things became challenges, hurdles to overcome every day.

And then, there was sex.

He and Bond had always been very active, not losing stride even as his lover approached fifty. There was something about the other man that Q could not resist, and as the years passed, that attraction had only grown. Q remembered how, in the early stages of their relationship, they could have spent days together in bed, just making love in every possible and creative way imaginable. As they grew older, the passion didn't die, it just calmed to the point where they could actually keep their hands off each other for more than a few hours at a time. Q loved making love to Bond, but as of late, he had been avoiding it along with everything else, making excuses where there weren't any. As much as he wanted to touch his partner, the thought of the pain--the thought of disappointing Bond because of it--made him shy away.

But he loved Bond, so he tried.

It was one rainy evening at the end of spring. Bond had just returned from running a two week survival boot camp in Northern Scotland for new recruits and he came in looking hungry and a bit unshaven. Q met him at the door and found himself on the receiving end of a very passionate kiss. He let Bond press him up against the closed front door and take control of his mouth, take possession of his body. A long time ago, the rough touch of Bond's fingers could send him to a pleasurable headspace almost immediately. But now, things were a bit more difficult, and Q sighed through his nose and slid his arms round Bond's shoulders as he tried to put the discomfort at back of his mind. His arms felt like they were full of fiberglass--itchy and painful--which made it difficult to enjoy the sensation of Bond kissing, touching, making love to him. As much as Q wanted to hold onto Bond--grip at his hair, his shoulders, his back, anything he could reach--he couldn't with his fingers refusing to cooperate.

In the end, the sex wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, either; between the pain and Q's inability to reciprocate any of Bond's touches, he hadn't been able to come. Bond looked more concerned than offended as he cleaned them up.

"Are you alright?" he asked, once they had settled into bed. Q moved onto his side to press against Bond's warmth, seeking the heat and weight of his body after two weeks without it.

"I'm fine," Q answered, eyes fluttering shut as Bond lightly trailed his fingers over Q's soft cock.

"You're sure?" Bond asked.

"I'm alright, really," Q told him, and kissed his mouth. "Just tired." He tried to card his fingers through Bond's hair like he knew the other liked, but his arm was burning from the inside out and each finger felt swollen and raw. He could only let it rest against Bond's shoulder limply in their half embrace. "I'm glad you're home. I missed you."

Bond stopped trying to coax Q's cock back to life and looked at him for a long time. He seemed preoccupied as he traced his fingers along Q's hip. His touch was nice enough that Q could almost forget the sensation of hot needles pricking in his palms, splintering down his forearms to his elbows.

Almost.

00Q00Q00Q

Bond noticed--of course he noticed--but he didn't say anything about it.

He didn't know what to say.

Bond wasn't even sure when it started happening. Was it that one time when Q had been making tea and dropped the mug on his way to the sofa? Bond hadn't worried so much as to the cause, more concerned with making sure that Q's bare feet hadn't been burnt. He had thankfully escaped unscathed and after they cleaned up the mess, they attributed it to a common accident and forgot about it. But had it been? Was that the start of everything? Or was it the night Q had been helping Bond set the table for dinner, when he fumbled with some of their best stemware and shattered two glasses onto the kitchen floor? Bond remembered that night, because they swept it up and spent the rest of the evening in stony silence; the stemware had been a gift from Eve a while back, a celebratory gift marking their third year as a couple. After a day or two, they forgot about it.

Or Q did, anyway.

Bond remembered, and made note that it kept happening and happening and happening. Q offered excuses, and Bond believed them, for a while, until he couldn't. R came to him the afternoon after he had returned from Scotland, looking a bit unsure of herself as she said I'm worried about Q. She told Bond everything that had been happening in the labs, in the bullpen. A few months now, it seemed, just like it had been at home, steadily one thing after another, and with Q pretending like nothing was wrong. Will you talk to him? she asked, and Bond assured her that he would.

He sat on that promise for three days, observing Q carefully. R was right, and that niggling feeling in the back of Bond's mind had been right too. There was something wrong, something very wrong.

"Is everything okay?" Bond asked, when he saw Q struggling with his shirt buttons in front of the mirror. It was a daily occurrence now, one that Bond finally had to remark upon.

"Fine, why?" Q asked. His hands were shaking. Bond rose from the edge of the bed and went to help him. Q's fair skin flushed red with shame.

"I think...you should get checked out," Bond said gently, smoothing Q's collar down once he had finished.

"I'm just tired, James," Q said, and turned back to the wardrobe to select his favourite cardigan.

"I've seen you tired," Bond replied, watching as Q fumbled with the garment, nearly dropping it once he had gotten it off the hanger. "This isn't tired, Q."

"Well maybe I should get my eyes checked again," Q said, as he shrugged the cardigan on.

"I don't think it's your eyes," Bond answered.

Q turned to look at him, suddenly pale and serious at the unspoken insinuation in his tone. Then he shifted his gaze away and went back to getting dressed.

"Don't worry about me," Q said.

"I always worry about you," Bond said, and moved his arms round Q's waist. He seemed thinner than Bond remembered. Two weeks certainly wasn't that long, but somehow, Q was smaller than ever. Bond saw his own concern reflected in the glass. "Have you been eating?"

"I'm okay," Q replied, and kissed his cheek. "Now, let me go. I'm going to be late for work."

Bond did not release him.

"Promise me you'll go to Medical?" Bond asked.

"My schedule is blocked up this week. It'll have to wait," Q said.

"Please, Q?"

Q looked at him. Bond rarely asked in such a way, knowing to save his pleases for moments like these, when he knew that Q would absolutely not be able to say no. And Q couldn't.

"I'll try to squeeze something in if it makes you feel better," Q answered.

"It does," Bond said.

Q kissed his lips.

"Who would have thought…? James Bond, Mother Hen."

Bond laughed, because it was a ridiculous image, but as he watched Q struggle with the zipper on his coat, the laces of his shoes, his house keys, Bond couldn't help but feel a mounting concern for his lover. They had been together five years now, going on six in November, and Bond had never seen Q like this. He seemed less vibrant somehow, like he carried a burden that weighed heavily on him, one that he felt he had to shoulder alone. Bond would have thought that after all they had been through, Q would come to him with anything and everything. But he was holding back, pulling away, and Bond hated the growing distance between them even more than he hated the sex that Q did not seem to want anymore.

"I love you," Bond said, because he did, because he didn't say it enough, and maybe Q just needed to be reminded of that.

Q paused by the door and smiled a real smile at him. There were few people in the world who were privy to it, this secret, beautiful side of Q that could make Bond's heart stutter and nearly stop in adoration. It felt like forever since Bond had last seen it.

"I love you," Q replied, and tilted his head. "Coming by later today?"

"I've got training seminar all day," Bond answered. Despite being retired, MI6 kept him busy. The classroom and practical seminars left very little time for Bond to wander down to TSS in search of Q for a quick lunch. On top of that, Q rarely kept regular hours, so it was all but impossible to schedule something in advance. "I'll drive you home after?"

"Sounds perfect," Q said, and smiled again, before saying his farewells and departing. Bond went to the front window and watched as Q exited their building and walked across the street to the Tube entrance.

He felt the worry rising up again, a dark and ugly thing, wondering why exactly Q was keeping secrets from him.

00Q00Q00Q

Q kept trying not to think about it, trying to work through it, because he desperately did not want to acknowledge what it meant. But then Q reached the point where he couldn't hide it any longer. It was that afternoon, after some cock up in Peru. 004 needed him to hack past a drug cartel's security network quickly to prevent a major transfer of funds from disappearing into the wrong hands. It was child's play, or it would have been, had he been in top form. Q typed as fast as his burning fingers would allow, ignoring the pain by gnawing on his lower lip for the duration of his work. R jumped in to help when it seemed that Q might not make it at his speed; her fingers moved rapidly over the keyboard beside him. In the end, they managed to reroute the monies and get a location on the criminals 004 had been pursuing. For Q, it was at the cost of a bloody lip and the sensation of splintered glass compacted in his hands and wrists. And when R looked at him worriedly, he received an extra heap of shame on top of all of it.

After he ensured that 004 did not need anything else, Q excused himself and went into his office. He sucked at his injured lip and cradled his numb, hurting hands in his lap. He thought about Bond and the way he had looked at him that morning with such concern and Q wanted to cry, because it couldn't be.

It couldn't be his hands.

It just couldn't be.

Someone knocked at his door, and Q straightened up in his office chair and turned to look at his computer so it seemed like he was working.

"Come in," he said.

"Boss."

It was R. She had been with him from the start of things, invaluable in her knowledge and skill. Over the years, they had developed a close friendship--as close as superior and subordinate could--and knew almost everything there was to know about one another. So when Q saw her face, read her body language, he knew what she was going to say.

"I know," he sighed, and leant back in his chair, feeling defeated.

"Medical is very good," she told him. "They might be able to come up with something to help."

Q nodded, swallowed down the heavy thing in his throat and asked:

"Will you...contact them for me? Set something up?"

"Already done. You have an appointment in an hour," she answered. Q couldn't help but smile.

"Always two steps ahead, aren't you?" he asked.

"But always one step behind you," she answered.

Q sighed again and flexed his stiff fingers.

"Not this time, I'm afraid."


When Q arrived at Medical, he met with Aimee, the nurse practitioner. She had a kind face and even kinder hands, for which Q was grateful. Even more grateful when she did not ask him to remove any of his clothing--with all the difficult buttons and zips--but rather just had him roll up the sleeves of his cardigan and shirt to perform a preliminary examination.

"So R tells me you've been having some problems with your hands," Aimee said. Her fingers were cool as she moved them along Q's neck.

"Numbness, pain, you name it," Q replied, relaxing when she told him to as she moved down from his neck to his left shoulder and arm.

"So how long has this been going on?" she asked, as she took up his left wrist.

"I've had tendinitis for a long time. Probably since uni," he answered, wincing despite her care when she turned his hand in hers. "But this started up a few years ago. It's only in the past few months that it's become… a hindrance."

"Has anything happened recently to cause this?" Aimee asked, as she flexed each one of his fingers.

"Nothing. Just my usual work," Q replied, hissing softly when she adjusted his thumb.

"Can you make a fist for me?" Aimee asked and Q tried, but couldn't quite make a closed fist. "Okay, now I want you to grip my hand as hard as you can." She held out her hand and Q did as he was asked. She repeated the exercise on his other arm after she had checked his neck and right shoulder. Q got a better fist on his right, but a weaker squeeze. Aimee frowned.

She had him perform two other exercises: one of which included holding his hands over his head for two minutes (though Q only lasted for about forty seconds before he had to drop them) and the other in which he draped his wrists over the edge of a table so that Aimee could record the time it took for his numbness to appear in his fingertips. Her frown deepened.

"Alright, I'm going to perform what's called the Tinel test. It might feel uncomfortable, but I want you to tell me what you feel," she said, and had him hold out his left arm, palm facing upward. She tapped at the place just above his wrist, which sent little jolts of borderline-pain tingling down to his fingers. Once he described it, she did the same to his right arm, with similar results.

"Now I'm going to perform another test and I want you to describe what you feel and the intensity of it using a scale from 1-10," she explained, as she went back to his left hand and had him hold it the same way. Aimee moved her hand to the place between Q's elbow and wrist and pressed down. Q jerked under her grip and tried to move away, but she held him firm. "Talk to me."

"It hurts," Q grit out between clenched teeth.

"How?" she asked.

"Like a shock…" Q breathed out painfully, trying to think of a way to describe it, but unable to find the appropriate words. "Like burning…I don't know, needles. Something awful..."

"How would you rate it?"

"8."

She let him go and Q brought his trembling hand to his chest, still reeling from the pain. When Aimee asked to perform the same test to his right, Q refused. He had had enough trauma for one day.

"Well, I don't think that it's too early to give a diagnosis," Aimee said. "You definitely have carpal tunnel syndrome."

Q swallowed the bile in his throat at the words. Those were the words programmers and hackers had nightmares about. The debilitating pain of CTS had forced many into shameful retirement, filled with self-hate and loathing. Q did not want to be one of them.

"How bad is it, would you say?" he asked.

"Yours seems to be moderate-to-severe," Aimee answered. "I'm going to recommend that you try to reduce the number of hours you spend on activities with repetitive motion, like typing."

Q felt very cold. He wanted to scream because, out of everything he loved, everything he built, it had to be his hands that went. What was he without them?

"Is that all? I'm Quartermaster of MI6. I can't just not use my hands," Q replied.

"Unfortunately, one of the best things for CTS is to no longer perform the action that aggravates it," Aimee explained. "For you, I would say that one of the worst triggers is all the computer work you do."

"It's my job," Q answered helplessly. Aimee raised a placating hand.

"Let's just see how things go. You don't have to stop entirely, just be mindful of how many hours you're putting in a day," Aimee replied and Q nodded mutely. She looked down at her chart and continued: "Do you take anything for the pain?"

"I try not to. But if it gets too bad, I'll take a Panadol…" Q answered.

"I'm going to send you home with some ibuprofen. Paracetamol doesn't have as much anti-inflammatory activity, which means it isn't doing much for you right now. This might help," she replied, writing out a script on her pad. "I'm also going to get you two splints that will reduce the pressure on your median nerve. You should feel the difference within a few days."

"Splints," Q repeated, hollowly.

"You don't have to wear them all the time. In fact, it's advised that you don't," Aimee answered, "but definitely wear them at night."

The thought of doing that made Q queasy. What would Bond think when he saw them? When he found out that Q was so crippled? Would he pity Q? Leave him? The uncertainty gnawed at him until he felt sick with it.

"I can also provide you with some literature for exercises that you can do at home, which may help alleviate some of your pain," Aimee continued. "But if it worsens or you don't feel any improvement after a few weeks, we may have to try alternative options."

"Like what?" Q asked, with creeping dread.

"We can try some different medications or physical therapy," Aimee replied. "If all else fails, there is also surgery."

"Surgery," Q said, unable to keep the tremble from his voice. "On my hands."

"It's only offered as a last resort. The majority of surgeries are extremely successful," Aimee said, in the best sort of doctor voice that soothed and assured. But it had no effect on Q, who felt a bit of cold sweat at his brow at the thought of what possible outcomes occurred in the minority of those surgeries. "But we're not thinking about now. With some rest and these exercises, a lot of people find they can manage their CTS rather well. Just ask anyone from Accounting; the majority of that lot have CTS and they're all doing just fine."

Q nodded numbly throughout the rest of the visit, disinterestedly taking his exercise sheets and script from Aimee. He went straight over to the in-house chemist, who prepared the appropriate dosage of ibuprofen for him to take home. Two severe-looking black splints were included in a larger bag. The small pill bottle, Q could have hidden, but the large white bag now made discretion impossible. When he returned to branch, everyone stared, all of their faces set in silent, solemn expressions, like someone had died. R managed to get everyone back to work with few words and a firm tone. In that moment, he saw her as the new Q, running the department as well as, perhaps even better than he had. He had been grooming her for that position since the day they were introduced, yes, but Q had always believed he had at least twenty, thirty more years in him.

But maybe not.

He hid in his office the rest of the day, not doing much work despite having tonnes of it. He pointedly did not think about the splints and medication he had shoved in his messenger bag, focussing instead on diverting his attention away from all things related to his hands and more on scrolling through the capital project budget Administration had sent his way. The door opened several hours later, just as he made it to the last page. The lack of a knock told him exactly who it was.

"You still haven't learned," Q said, not looking away from the computer.

"Learned what?" Bond asked.

"To knock," Q replied.

"But I'm special," Bond said. Q felt his lip twitch; the other man just had that ability to make him want to laugh, even when he was in no state of mind to do so.

"Still so arrogant. The students must love you," Q said.

Bond sat down in the chair across from him and groaned a bit. His hair was still wet from a recent shower and he was wearing his track clothes instead of one of his usual suits. Despite that and his apparent exhaustion, Bond still managed to look handsome as ever.

"Enough to wish that I'd retired out in the country somewhere far, far away from the classroom," he replied, and rubbed at his right knee. In the end, it wasn't the shoulder that took him out of action, but the knee. It had been a minor mission with no real flare, just a car chase that ended up with two Iranian smugglers dead and Bond's vehicle crunched like a can of sardines round a guardrail. If it hadn't been for his knee getting crushed under the dash, Bond might have walked away from that one relatively unscathed. But alas, it had been the last tick in the last box that sent Bond straight into retirement. Instead of putting him behind a desk, however, Mallory allowed him to become a trainer for new recruits. Q thought that Bond secretly loved the job more than he let on, even if he did give the harshest marks. "Unfortunately for them, they haven't even begun to understand what hate really is. Just wait until they have their survival training."

"Scotland again?"

"I was thinking Northern Sweden in January."

"You are a bad man."

Bond grinned and Q allowed himself to smile, because for the first time in hours, he found himself not thinking about not-thinking-about-things.

"Are you ready?" Bond asked.

"If you are," Q said, and began powering everything down. The emails and calls and everything could wait until tomorrow. If they couldn't, R would handle it. In fact, it would probably be better if she did, as Q was all but useless now.

"Do you want to go out for dinner? Or get takeaway?" Bond asked, breaking Q from his self-deprecating thoughts. Bond stood with Q's coat in his hands, holding it out to him. Q slid into it gratefully, relieved that he didn't have to fight the sleeves and zippers himself.

"Either is fine with me," Q answered, pulling his bag onto his shoulder.

"Chinese?"

"Always."

00Q00Q00Q

Bond could tell that Q was preoccupied with something, but whether that something happened to be their discussion from that morning or something work-related, Bond could not say. He decided to call for takeaway, which they picked up on the way to the flat. Q sat quietly during the ride and Bond felt uncertain if he should break the silence.

When they arrived upstairs, Q went into the bedroom to change and Bond pulled down plates and cutlery and laid them out on their small dine-in table. He arranged them appropriately and portioned out their meals just as Q returned to the living room, dressed comfortably in lounge wear. He looked a little more at ease now that they were at home.

"That smells good," Q said.

"Thank you. I slaved over it all day," Bond replied with a grin, and pulled out Q's chair for him.

"You shouldn't have, dear," Q answered, grinning too as he sat down in the proffered seat.

"Anything for you," Bond said.

"Oh, if only people knew just how sweet you are," Q said, "I think they would be even more terrified."

"And rightfully so," Bond replied, as he went into the kitchen to fetch some wine. He poured two glasses and placed one to the left of Q's place setting and the other next to his.

"Speaking of which, how are the new recruits. Any potential?" Q asked.

"None. I guarantee at least half of them will drop in the first month," Bond said, as he sat down. He sighed in relief to get off his knee, stretching out his right leg under the table to ease some of the stiffness.

"And the other half?"

"Maybe I can instill some potential in them."

"Or fear. I think fear is the word you're looking for," Q said, and Bond laughed, tipping his wine glass against the edge of Q's stationary one.

"Cheers to that," Bond answered.

They ate with just the right amount of conversation. Bond wasn't supposed to know about 004's mission, but he had heard about it through his usual channels, so he asked what he knew he could get away with and left it at that. He didn't ask if Q had done what he asked of him that morning or if he didn't care for the wine, because he hadn't touched his glass. But Bond especially did not mention the fact that it seemed Q was having great difficulty eating that night. Bond observed silently as Q would take a bite, then put his fork down for a bit as he chewed, hands under the table where Bond could not see them. Bond didn't like the way Q was acting, because he could tell that Q was acting; the strain had already begun to show in the stiffness of his jaw and the shadows under his eyes. Even the bit of grey in his hair seemed more prominent.

"Q," Bond said, when he couldn't keep silent any longer. Q looked at him like he knew what Bond wanted to ask, and smiled a tired half-smile at him. "Tell me what's wrong?"

Q took a breath like it hurt and for a moment, Bond thought that he might lie. But Q had never been very good at it, and maybe that was why he seemed defeated when he said:

"I went to Medical today."

Bond put down his fork and regarded Q carefully. He had a feeling that this conversation had the potential for minefields, and he wasn't about to go in without precaution.

"What did they say?"

Q looked at his plate for a while.

"Well, it's not my eyes," he said, but instead of relief, Bond felt a creeping fear. Q went silent again for a bit, then breathed in deeply. "It's something, ah, I mean, it's nothing, really, not really. I got some medicine. I'll be okay."

Bond listened to the jumbled words, thinking that they weren't for him, but rather for Q, as if he was trying to reassure himself.

"Q, talk to me," Bond said, moving his chair closer.

"I'm okay," he replied. So close, Bond saw that Q's lashes were wet.

"Then talk to me," Bond urged him gently.

"Not right now, if that's okay?" Q asked, and he looked so fragile and afraid that Bond could only nod. He had only seen Q like that a few times; a few hazy memories of his pale face leaning over Bond while he recovered from grave injuries in Medical. Bond knew just from that look that whatever this was had to be serious.

"Okay," Bond said, round the thing in his throat that wanted him to say the exact opposite. As much as he wanted to know, Bond couldn't force that out of Q if he wasn't ready, so he had no other choice but to set his own anxiety aside.

Q nodded in response, picked up his dish without a word, and went into the kitchen. Bond heard the clatter of the plate when Q dropped it into the sink, but he did not rise to investigate. The silence seemed very loud and very deep. Then the tap went on and cut through the quiet harshly, like a roar, like thunder. Bond remained seated and stared at his wine glass, listening as Q fumbled with the soap bottle and sponge. One, then the other dropped with a splash on top of the plate. Even over the water, Bond heard Q take a shaky, broken breath.

The sound of it near shattered Bond's heart.

Bond couldn't sit there any longer. He pushed back his chair and went into the kitchen, where he found Q leaning on his elbows with his wrists thrust under the turret. His head was low and he seemed exhausted and defeated in a way that Bond had never seen, never wanted to imagine. Bond went to him, put his arms round Q's too-thin waist, and rested his cheek against that place between his shoulders. Q didn't want to talk and that was fine, but Bond was not going to leave him alone.

"You're okay," Bond told him. "You're going to be okay."

"No, I don't think I am," Q said.

"Then I'll take care of you," Bond replied.

Q didn't say a word. Bond kept his position, cheek against Q's back, and listened to him breathing until his shoulders marginally began to relax, until Q had the strength to raise his hand to turn off the tap. The water dripped from Q's limp fingertips.

"Promise?" Q asked.

Bond kissed the back of his neck comfortingly, lovingly, because there was no other person in the world he cared for so much.

"I promise."


Q didn't explain himself and didn't have to; Bond had two eyes that could see just fine. Maybe they both had been trying to ignore it--to believe that it was anything but that--but it seemed that they couldn't ignore it anymore. The reality of it was clear and harsh, no longer this vague, abstract thing that hid in dark closets or under beds. But having it verbalised would be making it tangible, and that might be worse, because then it was out in the open. Because then, admitting it meant admitting that the one thing that he strived so hard to achieve--the one thing that made him Q--might be ripped away from him. And there was nothing he could do about it.

So Bond was as gentle as he could be.

He helped Q out of his clothes and into a warm shower, where he paid special attention to washing Q and shampooing his hair. Q leant back against him under the spray, eyes closed as if relaxed, but Bond saw the little line of worry between his brows and tried to kiss it away. It eased somewhat, the gouge not as deep as before, but it stubbornly remained. They got out and Bond dried them off, then brought Q into the bedroom to get him dressed in his pyjamas. It was only when they were sitting on the edge of the bed together, when Bond was working on drying the mess of dark curls, that Q spoke.

"It's my hands," he said. Bond stopped what he was doing to let the words sink in. They had been spoken aloud, brought out into the daylight: ugly, horrible, sharp things that punctured the air. Bond dropped the damp towel onto the floor and wished he knew what he could say or do to make it better.

Q swallowed audibly and then tried to smile, but it was twisted and wrong and not like Q at all.

"I shouldn't be...I shouldn't be making a big deal about it. A lot of people have carpal tunnel. It's just that a lot of them aren't Quartermaster of MI6. I need my hands to work or else I'm out the job."

"What do we do?" Bond asked pragmatically.

"They gave me pain medication. Some splints...said to try and rest."

"Then we'll try that. Why don't you take some leave?"

"I can't. Not right now. I've got 004 still on mission and 005 going out in two days. Plus the budgetary committee meeting is this week and I'm scheduled to strengthen the protection on the firewalls again next Thursday…"

"Can R do it?" Bond asked. He knew that Q liked to do things himself, but certainly, in this one case, his second-in-command could be trusted to take over?

"Not all of it. I wouldn't ask that of her, anyway," Q replied and sighed. "Not yet."

"Well, is there anything you can do? Maybe you could dictate instructions to your minions?" Bond suggested.

"Don't call them that," Q said, round a smile.

"But really. It might help ease the strain."

"I...could try…"

Bond could tell that Q hated the idea, but he would consider it. He leant over and kissed Q's temple.

"It'll be okay. We've faced worse before," Bond said.

"I know. It's just hard facing this. I feel useless..." Q said, and looked at Bond with an apologetic wince. And for good reason.

This conversation was not so different from the one they had had over half a year ago, when Bond had been injured and forced to retire. It was Q who comforted him, who convinced him he was not useless, that he still had so much to give. In the end, it was Q who kept Bond from losing his mind to boredom, finding constructive things for him to do, eventually encouraging Bond to accept Mallory's offer as an agency trainer. Q's love and faith in him had made all the difference, like Bond knew his would for Q now.

"You're not," Bond replied, seriously, "so don't even think that."

"I can't even be trusted with glassware. How am I going to be entrusted with defending England and her interests?" Q asked.

"With your snark and intelligence, I'm sure you'll manage," Bond answered. "Or build robots to manage things for you."

Q smiled and turned to rest his cheek against Bond's clavicle. Bond put his arms round Q and pulled him close.

"You'll be alright," Bond told him. "R and the others will take care of you at work. I'll take care of you here. You'll be feeling better in no time."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

He could only hope that it would not end up being a lie.

00Q00Q00Q

Q woke up the next morning feeling better than he had in months. At Bond's insistence, he had taken the ibuprofen and worn the splints to bed. Aside from feeling rather silly about them, the splints had worked wonders. He didn't feel any numbness in his fingers for the first time in a long time. He also smelt something he hadn't smelt in an equally long time.

"Are you making waffles?" Q asked, tugging his dressing gown further around him as he entered the kitchen. He found his lover in nothing but track bottoms, working at an iron with the intensity that some might find over-the-top for 7am.

"I thought I'd surprise you," Bond said with a smile, as he eased up the iron and revealed a perfectly golden waffle. "It'll be ready in a minute."

Q felt something warm in his chest that made him smile.

"I'm so lucky," Q said, as he raised up on tiptoe to kiss at the hinge of Bond's jaw.

"You are. Not everyone gets to taste the food of the Gods," Bond answered.

Q laughed, surprised at how easy it was after how gloomy the past two months had been. He regretted it now--his moodiness and self-pity--because Bond really was wonderful. No one would have ever guessed that someone who had a license to kill could be so unbelievably kind and sweet. And mine, Q mentally supplied.

"I would agree, but I don't want my compliments to inflate your already massive ego," Q replied, as he went for the kettle. Bond laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Let me get it. You sit down," Bond said, and Q obediently went to sit at the table, where the cutlery and serviettes were already laid out. Bond followed him almost immediately with two plates of waffles balanced on one arm and a bottle of syrup clutched in his left hand.

"Now this is service," Q said, as Bond put the plates down in their respective places.

"And get used to it," Bond replied. "You won't be lifting a finger if you don't have to."

"Now you're being ridiculous. I'm perfectly capable," Q replied, feeling heat gather in his cheeks with embarrassment. The kettle whistled in the kitchen, and Bond went up to tend to it.

"How do you feel?" he asked, as he prepared Q's tea.

"Better. Almost normal, it's a relief…" Q replied, moving his fingers. They felt a bit heavy and warm, but not numb, which was an improvement.

"Good," Bond said, as he returned with a steaming mug of Earl Grey, which he placed at Q's right elbow.

"I just feel silly wearing these," Q admitted, holding up his entrapped hands.

"They're not silly. They're helping," Bond replied, as he went for his glass of orange juice. "It's just like the brace for my knee. I hate that bloody thing, but sometimes...I can't help but need it."

"I suppose…" Q replied. He went for his tea, carefully taking it in both hands so he didn't spill. He had better grip today, but he wasn't about to scald himself unnecessarily. After taking a few sips, Q set it back down in the appropriate place. "Suppose we're just getting old."

Bond snorted into his orange juice and Q bit down on a grin as he picked up the syrup to pour over his waffle. It was already cut up into bite-sized pieces.

"Did you cut my waffle into little bits?" Q asked, raising a brow.

"I did," Bond answered and Q flushed again.

"I'm not a child, you know," Q said, as he dumped copious amounts of syrup onto his breakfast.

"I beg to differ," Bond replied, indicating Q's drowned waffle.

"I beg to differ. Do you see what you did to me?" Q asked, pointing at the bit of grey at his temples, which had sprouted a few years ago due to Bond's constant recklessness in the field. "It's a miracle I'm not on high blood pressure medication."

"Fine, but hear me out. The doctor said you need to rest your hands. I said I'd take care of you at home, so that means not doing the things that are going to hurt you," Bond replied, matter-of-factly.

"I can cut my own food," Q said, still terribly embarrassed.

"I'm sure you can, but it's painful, yes?"

"Well...yes…a bit..."

"Then let me. Just for a little while."

"Okay, but you're not feeding me," Q replied, drawing the line.

"Are you sure? I could. Even make little aeroplane noises," Bond said, spearing a section of waffle on Q's plate with his fork. He then began moving it around while making said aeroplane sounds.

Q kicked his good leg playfully under the table, but helped himself to the bite on Bond's fork.

"So less aeroplane noises then?" Bond asked, and Q laughed.

"Thank you," Q said, and meant it, honestly. Bond reached for one of his hands, not caring about the brace, and brought it to his lips. He kissed the backs of Q's fingers gently.

"Anything for you, love."

00Q00Q00Q

It went fine for a while.

Q worked things out with R, spent less time actually doing his work and more time directing people on how to do it. He still sat in on the boring meetings and worked the budgets, but he wasn't doing what he loved. Sometimes, Q would stand at the back of branch and watch as twenty people would simultaneously feed code into an attack on an enemy system, with R at the podium acting as command, as composer, as the symphony played. Q felt wretched with envy at what they were able to accomplish--at what he had once been able to accomplish--and rubbed at his tingling hands as he went off to one board assembly or another.

He hated it, the overwhelming disappointment of feeling constantly useless.

His hands still hurt, still went so numb that even when Q would shake them, the feeling would not return. He took to running them under cold water, because for some reason it eased the pins and needles under his skin. Even wearing the braces at night, reducing his workload, and taking the pain medication did little to prevent his hands from constantly falling asleep. Out of all three methods, the braces were what helped the most. Q felt his best with his wrists forced into position, but he had been warned not to wear them constantly or else he might become too dependent on them. It was with great regret that he removed them in the morning and let the pain and numbness return gradually throughout the day.

But the worst thing was that his condition still had its effect on life at home, and while Q appreciated all Bond did as a doting caretaker, it couldn't go on forever.

"You don't have to keep doing this," Q sighed, as Bond massaged at his shoulders. It had been a particularly long day for both of them--even more so for Bond, who had needed the support of his brace for his bad knee during seminar--but Bond had not taken a rest since they walked in the door, tending exclusively to Q and his needs.

"Doing what?" Bond asked.

"This," Q replied, letting his head fall forward as Bond worked at a particularly stubborn knot in his neck.

"But I love doing this," Bond said.

"James…"

"I do."

"I mean everything…" Q replied, feeling terribly guilty. He had no idea where he would be without Bond, who took the burden off him at home. Here, he knew he could rely on Bond for everything he needed without having to ask, but it was getting embarrassing even with the absence of judgement on Bond's part. Q felt a personal brand of shame that he could not take care of himself. He had always been independent, so having to depend on Bond to feed him, wash him, pick up after him...Q just felt terrible. Even more so because Q could do nothing to repay Bond for everything, not with crippled hands and with sex almost entirely off the table.

"I want you to get better."

"What if I don't?"

Bond paused in his massage for only a moment.

"You will," Bond said.

"But if I don't? Let's be realistic, James," Q replied. He made his living being careful, meticulously planning out every possible scenario and outcome. He was not about to change all of that in his personal life, even if the future looked a bit grim.

"If you don't, then we'll keep doing what we've been doing. Like I said, I love doing this."

"Babysitting me?"

"Pampering you."

"How can this be at all rewarding for you?" Q grumbled. "We haven't even...you know...it's been a while, because of all of this…"

"I like taking care of you," Bond replied. "I like that when I do, you're not in pain. I'd give up sex entirely if it meant I'd never have to see you hurt like this again."

Bond's words made a lump rise in Q's throat.

"You really do love me," Q said, round a smile.

"Of course I love you," Bond replied, nuzzling at his hair.

It never ceased to amaze him that James Bond could still love him, so deeply, so truly, so selflessly. He had always believed that their relationship would be a passing thing, something unavoidable in their line of work, but nothing serious. Then one year turned to two and Bond moved in with him. A third year passed and they were still happy, then a fourth. When Bond retired, Q thought it would be the end of it-that Bond would disappear from him completely-but he stayed. Bond stayed and Q loved him for it, because he knew then that he was too invested. He had spent too many years fearing Bond would die in the field, fearing that he would be alone; Q had never thought they would get the chance to live their lives like normal people, with the possibility of growing old together. And where Q thought that Bond would find it entirely too hateful, he seemed to be happy.

They were both finally happy.

"I love you," Q told him. "Even if I don't say it all the time. I do."

"I know," Bond said, and kissed his neck.

Q tipped his head back and allowed Bond to mouth his way down the column of his throat. The warm touch of Bond's lips made him tremble. It had been far too long since they had touched intimately and Q wanted. He turned in the circle of Bond's arms, slightly clumsy between his hands and the narrowness of the couch. Bond steadied his hips and helped Q into a more comfortable position straddling his lap. Once situated, Q traced his fingers along Bond's jaw. Although the tips of each digit stung with numbness, he could still appreciate the warmth of Bond's skin, the prickle of his stubble. He smoothed his thumb over Bond's lower lip, reveling in its softness, in the way the blue in Bond's eyes became engulfed by the black of his pupils at the touch.

"Oh," Q breathed. "I missed this."

"You're not the only one," Bond murmured, taking the tip of Q's thumb into his mouth.

"You know, I think we ought to remedy this," Q said, as Bond released his thumb with a gentle flick of his tongue.

"Only if you're feeling up to it," Bond answered.

"Oh, I'm feeling up to it," Q said, and pressed his hips down against Bond's. His lover grasped at arse and pulled him closer.

"You'll tell me if it hurts?" Bond asked, and Q kissed him.

"It's going to no matter what. I'd rather be enjoying myself."

"You're sure?"

"Very," Q answered, then leant back a bit and held up his hands. "The only thing is that I might not be able to use these as much. But we're creative people. I'm sure we can think of something."

Bond grinned. Q did too.

00Q00Q00Q

Bond didn't want to say it, but he was worried.

He gave things time to mellow out, trying to coax Q into relaxing as much as possible at home and doing less hands-on work during the day. Q even started performing the exercises that Medical recommended: stretches and simple motions that would help ease some of the strain from the median nerve in his arm. For a while, things seemed to be working out just fine, and their sex life even began picking back up again. But months passed and Bond worried, because Q wasn't getting better.

He was getting worse.

Bond tried not to believe it, even when he swapped out their precious few glass and ceramics for plastic ware, even when he noticed Q wearing the splints more often than he should, even when Medical had to up his medication dosage once, twice, three times. But he couldn't ignore it when Q would wake sometimes in the middle of the night, gasping and crying. Bond tried to ease the agony however he could, with kisses and medicine and cold compresses. Sometimes it worked and Q managed to fall back asleep, but other times, he would shakily pull away from Bond and try to go out on the couch to let Bond go back to bed. It killed Bond that he couldn't help, that he had to watch Q suffer like this, which was why he always tried to keep Q from exiling himself to the sofa.

"It's not fair to keep you up," Q told him one night.

"And you really think I'm going to be able to sleep knowing you're in this much pain?" Bond asked, and Q sighed and took his medicine before coming back to bed. Bond immediately pulled him against his chest and held him, almost desperately. Q turned over in his grasp and curled up under his chin, nuzzling against him like a small cat.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"I'm sorry," Bone replied, kissing at his hair.

"What can you possibly be sorry about?" Q asked. "You're wonderful."

"I'm sorry I can't help you."

"You are."

"Not really."

Q was silent for a long time. Bond thought he might have fallen back asleep. But then he said:

"There's another option."

"For what?" Bond asked.

"For all of this."

"What's that?"

Q shivered against him. When he spoke again, his quiet voice trembled, as if afraid.

"There's a...an operation…"

Bond went very still. The thought of Q going under the knife terrified Bond, especially because he knew what it meant: someone cutting into Q's hands, his beautiful, beautiful hands. He knew that Q felt the same way. That was probably why he hadn't brought it up until now. But after months without much progress, Q was most likely at the end of his rope, with no other recourse to combat the degeneration of his own body.

"Do you want that?" Bond asked.

Q gripped at his shirt with weak fingers, hissing when it undoubtedly hurt.

"I don't know," he mumbled, shaking out his hand. "I just...don't want to be like this anymore…"

"Okay," Bond replied, rubbing at his back. "We'll talk about it in the morning. Let's try to sleep on it."

Neither of them did.


Q contacted Medical the next day and arranged an appointment for further testing. Because of his position at MI6, Medical put a rush on it, scheduling the examination for the end of the week.

"Would you come with me?" Q asked, two nights before the date.

"Do you want me to?" Bond asked.

Q came close to him and draped himself over Bond's body with a tired sigh. Immediately, Bond put his arms round Q and held him.

"Yes," Q said, after a few long moments of silence.

"Then I'll come with you," Bond promised.

That is how Bond found himself in a small examination room in Medical on Friday afternoon. Q was very pale and trembling beside him, despite Bond's gentle hand against his back. There, they were introduced to a doctor that Bond had never seen before at Six: a wiry man with grey-blond hair and glasses. He introduced himself as Dr. Kearns. He had been brought in from Bart's to perform the test. His assistant entered shortly after, a mousy little thing who greeted them as Clara. They introduced themselves by the cover names Medical kept on file for additional security.

"Mr. Sterling, we'll just have you take a seat outside. The procedure should only take about a half an hour," Dr. Kearns said to Bond, motioning at the door.

"I would like him to stay," Q replied. "He's my…"

The words hung there, and Bond knew that Q always had difficulty with this part, much like Bond did. They had long passed the age of being boyfriends, and lover sounded like they were only in a physical relationship. They had tried partner before, and had then been considered business partners or work partners but never romantic partners. Bond would say life partner sometimes, to get the point across, but it sounded too impersonal for what they shared. In this case, Q most likely hesitated because he was unsure of which phrase would allow Dr. Kearns to allow Bond to stay.

So Bond intervened and said, without faltering:

"I'm his husband."

Q looked up at him as if he couldn't believe the words that had just come out of Bond's mouth. Bond might not have believed himself if he hadn't entertained the thought many times. Six years was a long time to be together--especially for someone like Bond--so the thought was only natural. In fact, it was actually more than a thought, but now was not the time. Bond squeezed Q's shoulder gently.

"It says here in your file that you are single, Mr. Turner," Dr. Kearns said, flipping through Q's chart.

"Well, I say husband...we're engaged to be married," Bond explained, and the tips of Q's ears went red. "We've been keeping it separate from work. I hope you'll respect our privacy and do the same."

"Of course," the doctor replied, and allowed him to stay without any further questions. Q looked like he had a few, but they would have to wait until later.

When the examination began, Bond stepped to the side so that the doctor could examine Q's hands; he watched unobtrusively as Dr. Kearns asked Q to do a few exercises, then tested his grip and reflex actions. After, he had Q face away while he poked the tips of his fingers with an instrument. Clara recorded everything dutifully on a tablet.

When Dr. Kearns was through, he had Q lay down on the narrow half-upright bed. Q made a small motion with his right hand, as if wanting to reach for Bond. Without waiting for him to ask, Bond crossed the small space and went to him, resting his palm comfortingly on Q's shoulder. Dr. Kearns did not say anything about his presence, and so Bond took that as his permission to stay.

"This is called an electrodiagnostic test," Dr. Kearns explained, as he wheeled a contraption over. Q tensed under his hand at the sight of it, and Bond rubbed soothing circles against his clavicle with his thumb to try and calm him. "It measures the speed at which nerves transmit impulses. It will help us understand more about the nature of your pain and its intensity." The man continued to explain the test and its benefits, then went on to detail the procedure. Electrodes would be placed on Q's inner arm and palm, then the machine would release of a small burst of electricity to stimulate the nerve, which would be recorded and printed. At the first mention of electricity, Q turned his face away and into Bond's shoulder. The frame of his left lens dug into his collarbone uncomfortably, but Bond did not re-adjust the position. Instead, he moved his arm round Q, encircling him in the safety of his hold. Q leant into him, feeling small in a way that was unnatural, and which fired every protective instinct in Bond's body.

"There's no need to be concerned. The shocks are minor and won't cause any adverse effects," Dr. Kearns said, at Q's reaction.

"Is this test even necessary?" Bond asked, with perhaps a bit more force than he intended, because Dr. Kearns flinched, just a bit.

"It's to determine the severity-"

"Take my word for it, it's severe."

"There are two tests. This is the less-invasive method. The other requires inserting a needle under the skin and administering the electrical impulses directly to the nerve."

Q shuddered against Bond at the description. Even Bond felt repulsed, and he had been tortured before.

"That doesn't answer my question. Is this even necessary?" Bond repeated.

"It will help us determine what our next step will be," Dr. Kearns replied. "We won't know what sort of treatment will be most beneficial until we perform the test."

Despite Dr. Kearns' glowing recommendation from Medical, Bond thought about asking for a second opinion. Although Bond was not a doctor, he was an agent, and he knew pain. Being intimately familiar with all sorts of pain lent him an understanding of what his lover had been experiencing. It wasn't the agonizing, piercing pain that made you wish for death, but rather the sort of pain that was debilitating in its constancy. Bond knew it well, between his shoulder and his knee, and the thought of some arsehole wanting to measure that pain by administering electric shocks just made Bond all the more antagonistic. But Bond also knew that Q was different from him. True, they were both stubborn to the point of absurdity, but while Bond would rather let his limbs rot off than have a trained physician look him over, Q trusted in logic and science and medicine. So if this man said that electrocution might provide answers, the boffin in Q would not disagree, even if the thought of it terrified him; Bond felt him shaking as Q straightened and faced Dr. Kearns.

"Just do the bloody test," he said, but with none of his usual bite.

Dr. Kearns nodded and set things up for the procedure. He began first with Q's left arm, fitting the electrodes in the appropriate places. Q watched until Dr. Kearns began turning dials on the machine, then he removed his glasses and retreated back to Bond's shoulder.

"We will test three different impulses," Dr. Kearns explained. "We may have to do this several times to get a clear reading."

"I'm going to delete your fucking medical credentials if you do," Q mumbled, almost inaudibly against Bond's neck.

"I'll help," Bond whispered into his hair, and moved an arm round Q's shoulders to hold him close.

"We will administer the first impulse on one," Dr. Kearns said, and counted down from three. The machine gave a little whir and Q's fingers twitched. The mousy nurse recorded the results without a word. Dr. Kearns shocked Q a few more times on that impulse, but Q did not make much of a fuss, despite a few hisses of discomfort. It was only when Dr. Kearns upped the impulse intensity that Q began reacting poorly. He whimpered a bit at first and tried to twist away from the pain, toward Bond, but Dr. Kearns held his arm still.

"If you move, we won't be able to get accurate numbers," he told Q, who stopped writhing immediately. But when the next impulse came, Q began trembling and, by the third, crying. He tried to stifle it, to silence himself, but Bond knew; he felt the warm wet of tears dampening his shirt.

He couldn't let it go on.

"Can we have a moment?" Bond asked, stopping the doctor from proceeding immediately. Dr. Kearns nodded and stepped away from the examination table and the torture device. He and Clara retreated to a corner to look at her tablet, giving them a small semblance of privacy. Q kept on shaking and Bond rubbed at his back to try and soothe him the best he could.

"You're doing well, so well, darling," Bond murmured, bringing his hand up to pet at Q's hair until he felt some of the tension leaving him. "It's almost over, okay?" Q nodded, sniffling.

"I'm sorry," Q said quietly, brushing his damp cheek against Bond's collar. "I shouldn't be...crying over this...this stupid thing…"

"You're in pain, there's nothing to be sorry about."

"It's nothing like what you've gone through."

"Pain is pain, Q. There's no shame in crying."

"You don't cry."

"Didn't you know? I don't have tear ducts. All agents have them surgically removed once we receive our Double-Oh status," Bond answered.

Q let out a short laugh.

"If you want to stop, we'll stop right now," Bond told him.

"No, I'm okay," Q said.

Bond gave him some time to breathe, and a few moments later, Dr. Kearns returned so that the tests could resume. He increased the intensity again; Q was near hysterical sobbing by the end of three rounds of it, even more so when Dr. Kearns said they would be doing the same thing to Q's right hand.

"I think that's enough for today," Bond said, intervening before they could even begin setting up for the next round of tests. Q keened softly into his chest like a small, injured animal, shaking and cradling his left arm to his chest. "Certainly you have enough data to tell you what you need to know."

Dr. Kearns looked a little uncomfortable.

"I can only give my professional opinion on the left hand," he answered, reaching out for the tablet, which Clara handed to him. "The examination and the tests all indicate severe carpal tunnel. We would consider this an advanced stage of the condition."

Bond wanted to punch him. He didn't have to subject Q to twenty minutes of agony to give that diagnosis.

"What do we do?" Bond asked, because Q did not seem capable.

"At this point in time, there are very few options left to you. I would recommend surgery."

The word seemed to echo. Q went very still against him.

"Surgery," Bond repeated. He had hoped he wouldn't have to hear that word. He had hoped that the doctor would have said that Q would improve through more physical therapy, through more rest, through more of the things they had been doing all along-anything but having Q go under the knife. "And there's no other alternative?"

"You could consider aggressive therapy, but it doesn't always work. Even removing yourself entirely from your work environment or the environment which exacerbates the condition might not help at this stage," Dr. Kearns replied.

"So what you're saying is that we don't have a choice. It's the surgery or nothing," Bond said.

"There is always a choice," Dr. Kearns answered. "But the surgery is the best option. You have to understand, we've come a long way from where we started. The surgery is almost always successful in reducing the amount of pain. Many patients claim that they experience few to no symptoms afterward."

"And the others?" Bond asked.

"Others?" replied the doctor.

"You said almost always. What about the others?" Bond elaborated.

"Well of course, it is surgery. Something can always go wrong. It's rare. But there have been a few cases. Though, I can assure you, you would have nothing but the best care and the finest surgeons at Bart's."

"What happened?" Q asked, speaking for the first time. "To the others?"

Dr. Kearns hesitated for just a moment.

"Some reported worsened pain or numbness. A very small number were left paralysed," the doctor replied carefully, but not enough to keep Q from breaking out in a cold sweat. Bond felt it against his palm.

"Paralysed," Q repeated.

"It's very rare, as I said," Dr. Kearns said, "but you shouldn't let that small possibility deter you from thinking about the surgery. Over 99% of patients have had successful recoveries."

Q didn't say anything, and neither did Bond. Dr. Kearns had Clara pack up the machine, then he left his business card with some information for them to take home.

"Please consider it," he said, before they exited the room.

It was only after, when Q had his composure again, that he spoke.

"What do you think?" he asked Bond, putting his glasses back on. His eyes were red-rimmed from crying but his cheeks were dry.

"I think that whatever you decide to do, I'll support your decision," Bond said.

Q smiled faintly.

"But what do you think?" he asked again, indicating that he didn't want Bond to say what he thought he wanted to hear, but rather what Bond actually thought.

"I think...you might want to consider it," Bond replied gently.

Q hung his head.

"What if… what if it goes wrong?"

"Well," Bond said, sitting down on the bed next to him, "as I see it, you have three options. The first is that you do nothing, and you'll still be in enough pain that you can't use your hands. The second is that you do the surgery and there is a 1% chance something goes wrong, leaving you without the ability to use your hands. The third is that you do the surgery with a 99% success rate and that you can use your hands again."

As Bond spoke, he could tell Q was listening attentively. Once he had finished, Q let out a long sigh and leant his head against Bond's shoulder. He had his left arm still cradled against his chest, but the right, he shakily rested on Bond's knee.

"You make it sound so easy," Q mumbled.

"It's not easy. Nothing is easy, you should know that by now," Bond answered, resting his cheek in Q's hair, "but I'll be here for you no matter what."

"Always?"

Years ago, Bond might have hesitated, because always was a commitment. Always was promise he knew he could not keep. But things were different now-Bond was different now-and he knew that there would be no truer truth than the vow that immediately came from his mouth:

"Always."

00Q00Q00Q

Q thought about it for a few days, wishing that the sensation of thousands of needles prickling just under his skin would go away so he could contemplate things with a clear head. But his thoughts were muddled with pain and inadequacy and fear, and Q could not come to a decision. The turning point was after a long Tuesday of not being able to do much at work, followed by a slumber interrupted by the sudden pain of his arms feeling like they were filled with broken glass. He tried not to wake Bond, but the man was a light sleeper, and Q felt one part guilty, two parts grateful when he got up and appeared a few moments later with frozen peas and carrots to put on his forearms.

"I'm going to do it," Q said, because it was two in the morning and he was so tired of this pain, this weakness, this burden he placed on Bond to carry with him. It just wasn't fair.

Bond pressed lightly on the cold packages, encasing Q's arm gently.

"When?" he asked.

"Soon. I'm not sure. I'll call in the morning. Set something up," Q replied. Bond nodded.

"I'll have Alec finish with the recruits," he said.

"What? No, you've been with them this whole time," Q answered. He didn't want Bond to give up the one thing he loved, not again.

"He's got plenty of time now that he's scaling back on missions," Bond replied. "Besides, I wasn't really looking forward to Sweden. And I can always supplement teach until the new class is selected for spring."

"But they're your responsibility."

"My only responsibility is to you."

Q felt the heat creep up the back of his neck. Even after almost six years, Bond could still make him blush with just a few words.

"James, you don't have to-"

"Q, you're insane if you think you're going to be able to talk me out of this. I'm taking leave when you do and nothing will convince me to do otherwise."

Q shut his mouth and looked down at the ice packs on his arms. The pain had scaled back somewhat and he could almost feel his fingers again. Still, he knew he would probably not sleep.

Not now.

"Okay," he replied, eventually. He was helpless to fight when he knew he would drop everything to do the same for Bond.

Bond leant over and kissed his forehead.

"And you're going to let me take you out to dinner before this," Bond said. "For our anniversary."

"You really are too good to me."

"Because I'm so lucky to have you."

Q laughed and bumped Bond's shoulder with his.

"Such a romantic."

"Shh, don't let anyone hear you. It'll ruin my reputation."

Q laughed until his sides hurt. He didn't think he could love someone so much.

00Q00Q00Q

The surgery was set for the first of December.

They were about a week out from that date, and Bond knew that Q was anxious thinking about it, but he hoped it wouldn't ruin their evening. It was their sixth anniversary and Bond had gotten them a table at their favourite restaurant-a small place a few blocks from Six-that served the best Indian food outside of Meerut. Bond dressed impeccably, but conservatively for the evening, and Q did the same. It was the first time they had been out in a while, as Q had taken to asking for take-away instead of dining at restaurants so that he didn't cause any embarrassment because of his clumsy hands. But that night, Q managed to not drop or spill anything and seemed to be having a better day dealing with the pain than usual. He even smiled a bit more than he had these past few months and Bond felt overjoyed.

"So I know we said no gifts but…" Q began, over dessert, as he nudged a small box across the table at Bond. When Bond gave him a look, Q went a little red. "I know, I know, but I couldn't wait until Christmas. I'm not going to be able to…" He held up his hands in explanation, and guiltily, Bond opened the box. A beautiful Breitling greeted him. "Custom-made, everything you'll ever need, except for a Swiss Army knife. I just couldn't fit it in there." Q smiled, something soft and relieved in his expression as he added: "And now I don't have to worry about you losing it."

"No, you'll have to worry about someone stealing it. If I ever take it off," Bond said, taking the watch out of the box. It had a gorgeous weight to it, a solid piece that Bond knew to be a combination of both Breitling and Q's craftsmanship. He could probably roll a tank over it and not break it. "Thank you."

"There's, ah, something, on the back," Q said, and Bond turned it over to look. There was a laser mark on the steel with the words The Inevitability of Time. Bond felt a grin forming and did not even attempt to stop it. Across the table, Q smiled too, and he looked so very handsome by candlelight that Bond wanted nothing more than to kiss him. "I thought it was a bit more appropriate than hugs and kisses or other such nonsense."

"It's perfect," Bond said, and meant it. He removed his watch and replaced it with the new one, admiring the piece. It was then that he thought about the small box in the lower left hand corner of the bottom wardrobe drawer, which had resided there for almost a year. Bond kept waiting for the right opportunity, but with everything that Q had been going through, the moment just never seemed to come. He wondered if now was appropriate, with everything that lay ahead.

But when he looked across the table at the man he loved, Bond knew it was.

They took a taxi home. Bond helped Q out of his coat at the door, then went into the kitchen to pour them both a drink. When he went into the living room, he found Q sprawled out on the sofa, feet bare, the top button of his shirt undone. His eyes were dark, grin inviting, and Bond only resisted out of sheer force of will.

"I'll be right back," Bond said, as he set their wine down on the table.

"You'd better," Q replied, trailing his foot along Bond's trouser leg to his knee suggestively. Bond pulled at his tie to loosen it.

"Two minutes," he promised, and disappeared into the bedroom. He knew exactly where it was, but needed the extra time to compose himself. Bond had only thought of doing this once before, a long time ago. After Vesper died, Bond thought he would never desire it again, but then Q came along and everything changed. He had someone he wanted to come home to every night and someone he wanted to wake up with every morning. They still fought and bickered and had their moments of stubbornness, of understanding, of love, and Bond wanted it all. Bond knew it had to be the right thing, because the sudden thought of not having Q in his life was unbearable.

He opened the box and looked at the simple silver ring inside.

Bond knew that Q did not like flashy things; he had a certain classic taste, which transferred to his work with code and weaponry. Everything was streamlined and efficient, nothing in excess, completely utilitarian in every way. Bond had selected the band with this in mind. He thought it would look very nice, but not at all ostentatious, on Q's left ring finger. He closed the box and slipped it into his inside suit jacket pocket.

When he came out of the bedroom, he found Q in the same position on the sofa, shaking his right hand, as had become habit whenever one or both appendages became numb.

"Do you need your splints?" he asked.

"No, I'm fine," Q replied.

Bond went and fetched them anyway and helped Q into them.

"Well, this is extremely attractive," Q groused, flexing his fingers slowly.

"You are," Bond replied.

"Stop it," Q said, flushing prettily.

Bond kissed him before the colour could recede.

"Happy anniversary," Bond said.

"I can think of a few ways to make it happier," Q said, sliding his leg over Bond's thigh.

"You will have to share those with me," Bond replied, "after I give you something important."

Q hit him playfully with the hard part of his brace.

"We said no gifts," Q said.

"You got me a gift," Bond pointed out.

"Yes, but I'm going under the knife next week and might not make it. I wanted you to have something to remember me by," Q answered.

"Dramatic," Bond said and Q laughed.

"Fine, then. Give it over," Q replied, then quickly amended with: "No, wait. Maybe you should open it for me, these damn hands of mine... I can close my eyes. I'll still be surprised, I promise."

"It's not really like that," Bond admitted.

"Oh, well, carry on, then," Q answered, settling back on the arm of the sofa expectantly.

Bond felt suddenly nervous. He certainly hadn't given much thought to how this would go, believing that that words would just come to him in his moment of need. But for all the training he'd had, all the years developing his eloquence with words, Bond's experience failed him. He opened his mouth and closed it, then did it again, but still, nothing.

"James?" Q asked, leaning forward to look at him with some concern. "Alright?"

"I love you," Bond managed to get out, and Q smiled in that beautiful way that could still make Bond forget how to breathe.

"I love you, too," he said.

"No, I mean I love you. More than anyone else," Bond continued.

"Well I should hope so," Q laughed. "I really didn't intend sharing you with anyone else."

"You'll never have to," Bond promised, then released a long breath. "Christ, I can't even begin to find the words to tell you how much you mean to me."

"You don't have to," Q replied, resting his hand lightly on Bond's knee. "You show me everyday."

"It's not enough," Bond said, and removed the box from his pocket. "So I hope that this is."

Bond hadn't even opened the box and Q had stopped breathing. When he revealed what was inside, Q gripped at him with weak fingers.

"What is that?" Q asked.

"It's whatever you want it to be," Bond replied.

"What do you want it to be?" Q asked, his green eyes searching when they looked at Bond.

"Well, I'm not sure about you, but I planned on spending the rest of my life with you. So whatever that means," Bond replied, unsure of Q's reaction. "Marriage if you want it, life partnership if you don't. I don't care, so long as you're mine and no one else's."

Q looked genuinely shocked for all of three seconds before his expression turned overjoyed; at the sight of it, Bond felt his heart rate calm from its anxious pounding to that delightful, excited beat he only experienced with Q.

"Oh, James…" Q sighed happily, and leant forward to kiss him. Bond kissed him back, then murmured his name-his real name-against his lips. For national security reasons, he knew he couldn't use it as often as he liked until Q retired, but now could definitely be considered an exception to the rule.

"So, is that a yes?"

Q laughed.

"Of course," he answered, and Bond grinned.

"Now you're stuck with me forever," Bond reminded him.

"There are worse things," Q said, and kissed him again.

When Q drew back, he looked at the ring.

"I...don't think I can wear it. At least, not right now," Q admitted, with a rueful smile.

"That's okay. You can after. If you want to," Bond said, trying to soothe some of Q's disappointment.

"I do want to...more than anything…" Q said. "Would you want to wear one, too?"

"People will talk," Bond replied, and his cheeks hurt terribly from smiling, but he couldn't stop.

"They do little else, don't they?" Q answered. "So would you?"

"It'd be an honor," Bond said.

Q laughed and trailed his fingers over the ring reverently.

"Why don't you try it on? Make sure it fits?" Bond suggested, seeing that Q wanted nothing more than to wear it immediately. Q tried to get the ring out of the box, but it seemed that all of his coordination at the restaurant had taken its toll and his fingers wouldn't move properly.

"Will you help me?" Q asked, embarrassed.

"Of course. Just tell me if I hurt you," Bond said.

"You won't," Q replied, with all the trust in the world.

Bond removed the silver band from the stiff velvet case and, with the utmost care, took Q's left hand in his. Slowly, he slid the ring onto Q's second to last finger, until it settled at the base just above his knuckle.

"What do you think?" Bond asked.

"Perfect," Q answered, holding out his hand so that they could both see it. Bond was almost too busy admiring it to notice Q's smile fall, just a bit before he asked: "You're sure, then?"

"I couldn't be more sure," Bond replied.

"Even if things...aren't okay? You're sure?" Q asked, weakly.

"Things will be okay," Bond said, taking Q's hand in his gently, "and on the unlikely 1% chance that they're not, you will at least know that I'm in this for the long haul."

"No refunds, returns, or exchanges," Q reminded him. Bond laughed.

"Good," he said, and Q smiled radiantly. Q moved his arms round Bond's neck and kissed him. He then leant back, taking Bond with him as he reclined on the couch. The velcro on the braces scratched the back of Bond's neck, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. In truth, he was much more focussed on the man beneath him, who looked up at him like Bond was the only person in the world.

"Well, then, now that that's settled," Q said, "I think we ought to consummate it, don't you?"

Bond was all grin as he dragged his fingers through Q's hair, trailed the tips along the column of Q's throat, and then began to undo his buttons one by one.

"I think that's a marvelous idea."


Bond swore he would wear holes in the floor at this rate.

He was at St. Bart's. It was the middle of the afternoon and it had started sleeting outside; he could hear it pounding against the window. Bond had been cooped up in the waiting room for the past two hours, hence his nervous pacing. He had begun limping about forty-five minutes ago, when his bad knee decided to take a turn. Still, the walking helped calm Bond, at least partially.

It seemed like an eternity ago that he had been in the preparation room with Q, who had looked as white as the sheets on the bed. A nurse had come in and hooked him up to an IV and then only seconds later, there were two doctors--Dr. Kearns and another man who introduced himself as Dr. Bennett--and a second nurse in the room. They all talked for a bit, explained the procedure for the hundredth time, and then took Q away. Bond clutched at the silver ring in his hand, worrying his thumb over it as he continued to pace the room.

Finally, a nurse appeared and asked if he was Mr. Richard Sterling. Bond pocketed the ring, gathered up his and Q's personal items, and then followed her down a hallway. Halfway into their journey, they ran into Dr. Bennett. The smile on his face calmed Bond's frayed nerves considerably.

"The surgery went well. There were no complications," he told Bond, and walked him the rest of the way to the recovery ward. "He should be waking up shortly."

"Thank you," Bond said and Dr. Bennett smiled again.

"After he's recovered, you'll want to discuss having the second surgery on his right hand. In the meantime, have him continue to wear the splint at night and do his exercises daily. The medication we've prescribed for the post-surgery pain might help with some of his symptoms in that hand as well, but it's good to keep up with habit."

Bond nodded again; Dr. Bennett led him to a room and let him go inside, indicating that he would be back in an hour or so to check up on them.

The room wasn't private, but all of the beds were empty except for the one near the window. Bond went to it and pulled up a chair quietly, not wanting to rouse Q, who still slept. He looked peaceful, but also small and fragile, like something spun of delicate glass. Bond hesitated to touch him, but eventually gave into his own selfish desire. Q's left hand was wrapped in thick white gauze, so Bond rested his fingers lightly over Q's right, smoothing his thumb over the soft skin.

Q slept on, even when one of the nurses came in to check his vitals and unhook him from the IV. She then checked the bandages on his left arm.

"He'll come round soon," she assured Bond on her way out. "Try to wake him if you can."

Bond did as she asked, and soon had Q drowsily blinking awake. His lids struggled to stay open, but after a while, Q managed them about halfway. When he saw Bond, he smiled: a bright, open thing that made Bond's heart swell.

"Hey," he said. "How're you feeling?

"Mm…" Q answered, his lids falling shut again. Bond shook his shoulder gently to rouse him and when Q woke up, he went back to smiling again.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi, Bond replied and Q blinked at him sleepily.

"You're gorgeous," he said and Bond laughed as he brushed an errant strand of hair from Q's eyes.

"They've got you on some good stuff, love," Bond said.

"Mmmhmmm…" Q agreed, then licked at his lips with a frown. Bond poured him a cup of water from the pitcher and glass on the table nearby, then helped him take a few sips. Q settled back afterward and dozed a bit. Bond managed to keep him awake when Dr. Bennett returned, though he was far from coherent enough to answer any questions or understand the post-op instructions. Bond dutifully committed it to memory and thanked the doctor again. Once he left, Bond worked on getting Q up and dressed. One of the nurses reappeared a few moments later with a sling and a wheelchair and helped Q into both.

Fifteen minutes later, he had Q in the car and they were on their way home. Once they arrived at the flat, Q went to bed and slept for the rest of the day. Bond only popped out for a bit to go to the chemist for Q's prescription, and he picked up a few grocery items on the way home. It was only later that evening that Q came to, and he was grouchy with disorientation and pain. Bond forced a few bites of food on him and gave him the appropriate amount of medication so that he could go back to sleep. Bond spent the rest of the night looking in on him and answering the barrage of phone calls and messages from people at Six, asking for updates on Q's condition. Moneypenny was by far the worst, with Tanner in second and R in third. Eventually, Bond shut his mobile down and went to bed.

Beside him, Q slept; it might have been the first time in months that he slept without pain or without the restlessness that came with the anticipation of pain. Bond touched his hair, his cheek, skipped his fingers down Q's arm until he reached the edge of the bandage. He stopped there, lingering only a moment before resting his hand at Q's hip. Although too far away to hear him, Bond whispered Q's real name once, twice in relief, out of love, and kissed him softly on the forehead, nose, mouth.

"I told you," Bond said to his quiet breaths. "You're going to be fine."

00Q00Q00Q

Q was going to be fine.

A week and a half after the surgery, Q was able to return to work and although he couldn't do much, he could at least oversee and manage his staff, attend meetings, and berate agents for breaking R&D's equipment. At home, Bond doted on him as he had been, sometimes bordering on mothering, which was as embarrassing as it was necessary. With Q unable to move his left hand in the restrictive air cast and his right too weak to do much else, he was completely reliant on Bond for anything and everything. Despite this small setback, Q already had feeling in the fingers of his left hand; the only pain he experienced was when the healing skin pulled if he tried to move his wrist more than he should have. He was able to enjoy the holidays knowing that he had made progress and would continue to improve.

That feeling of elation only doubled when Q wore the silver band on his left ring finger for the first time at the company Christmas party; Bond attended wearing its matching counterpart, and nearly all of Six had lost their minds. Of course everyone had known they were together for the past few years--even Mallory had stopped threatening them with recited interdepartmental relationship prohibitions a long time ago--but no one expected them to take the final step. Even Q hadn't expected it, never believing James Bond would be the sort to settle down. But after a long conversation, Bond admitted that he wanted more than just a domestic partnership, he wanted marriage and Q would never deny him that. So it was official that they were engaged, yes, and would tie the knot when it was appropriate. It seemed that the drinks and congratulations did not stop coming that night and Eve kept hugging Q, all the while gently scolding him for not telling her.

By the end of January, Q had already completed his first two weeks of physical therapy and his grip became stronger everyday. He didn't have to wear the air cast any longer and the incision marks had already healed and begun to fade. He had his second surgery in February, which was as successful as the first.

The difference was like night and day.

There was no pain or numbness at all, and although he still had flare ups of tendinitis from time to time, the carpal tunnel pain stayed far at bay. Q kept up with his physical therapy exercises everyday and did not spend long stretches of time straining his wrists if he could help it. He rarely experienced returning symptoms, only feeling the tinges of numbness after the days he wasn't as careful as he should have been.

So life returned with some normality: Q to his branch, Bond to his students. They still fought and bickered and made love like they always had, but now they were wearing wedding rings they rarely removed and Q could not remember a time he had been happier.

"So, you never said where we're going on our honeymoon."

Q brought it up on a Thursday in April.

London was trying for spring, but the weather stubbornly remained cold and rainy. Q and Bond were squeezed into a small booth at the cafe across the street from Six. There were plenty of familiar faces around them, as the place had become a favourite among agents and employees due to their sinfully delicious quiches and breakfast pastries. Q had one of said pastries in front of him, and a cup of hot tea. Across the table from him, Bond nursed a black coffee; he had already finished his omelette.

"We're not even married yet," Bond answered.

"There's WiFi here. I could arrange that," Q offered.

Bond laughed. It lit up his face, his eyes, and Q felt adoration and affection and love rise up in his chest. How he had attracted and kept someone like Bond, Q would never know.

"I was just thinking, because you've graduated the last lot of recruits and won't have new ones til end of May," Q continued, "and we both still have some holiday leave…Maybe now is the perfect time to get away."

"I was waiting for the right time to bring it up," Bond admitted, "but I know you're doing all that prototype testing for your newest whatsit that I'm not supposed to know anything about."

"And you don't know anything about it," Q told him.

"Not a thing," Bond assured him.

They shared a grin.

"R can handle the last phase for me. She's more than capable," Q answered.

Bond raised both his eyebrows at him.

"You're sure?" he asked.

"Of course, she's proven herself in the past," Q replied.

"No, I mean, can you tear yourself away from the lab that long?" Bond inquired, sounding doubtful.

"I've got good incentive," Q answered. "I don't believe I'll have any problems."

"Incentive, you say?" Bond asked, his grin sly.

"Well, we only get one honeymoon, don't we? Surely we can think of some exciting ways to make it memorable?" Q replied suggestively.

"I have some ideas," Bond answered vaguely, though his smile told Q that they were thinking along the same lines.

"Oh?" Q replied innocently, tapping his finger on the side of his mug. The silver band on his finger made a sweet sound against the rim. "Do I get a hint?"

"The only hint you'll get is that we won't be able to leave until your physical therapy is through," Bond replied and Q frowned at him.

"That's not a hint, that's a stipulation," Q grumbled.

"The hint is that I need you at top performance," Bond replied. Q had the decency to blush at the insinuation. While they hadn't completely halted their sexual activity during his recovery, there had been a marked decrease and intensity. Bond made love to him like he was afraid of hurting him, and while that was understandable and sweet, Q sort of missed the days when he would come home and Bond would push him up against the front door and have his way.

Q tugged at the collar of his shirt and cleared his throat.

"I think that's a reasonable request," Q answered, and leant forward, his croissant forgotten. "So, sometime in May. Where are we going?"

"That depends on where you want to go," Bond replied, setting his mug down.

A roll of thunder rumbled outside and the rain splattered against the window on a strong gust of wind.

"Somewhere sunny," Q said, without any hesitation. "What about Italy?"

"You'll cook in the Mediterranean," Bond replied, resting his hand out toward the middle of the

table. Q slid his hand toward Bond's, twining their fingers together. Bond's wedding band pressed skin-warm into his palm.

"You'll just have to make sure I don't," Q answered.

"Now that sounds promising," Bond said

"What does?" Q asked.

"Rubbing you down with suntan lotion to make sure you don't burn."

"You have such a one track mind."

"You love it," Bond said, "and if you don't, too bad. You're stuck with me now."

"Heaven help me, what sort of arrangement did I get myself into?"

They were both smiling, still holding hands. Ages ago, Q might have been embarrassed about such a thing, especially in public, but now he was just happy that he had this, so much so that he didn't care if anyone had a problem with it. Bond smoothed his thumb along the back of Q's hand, something that he wouldn't have been able to feel this time last year. Q didn't realise how much he had missed that sensation until that moment.

"Q?"

"Hmm?"

"Alright?"

Q looked at Bond, at their clasped hands, and knew that there really was no other person with whom he could spend the rest of his life. It was Bond. It always had been him, from the moment they met.

"I don't think I've ever been more alright in my entire life," Q said honestly.

Bond smiled, lifted their hands, and kissed at the pale white scar on the inside of his wrist.

"Me, too."